Dental Abscess (Child) 

An abscess is an area of fluid (pus) that happens where there is an infection. A dental abscess is caused by bacteria inside a tooth. Bacteria can get inside a tooth if the tooth has a crack or cavity. Cavities are caused by problems in oral hygiene and poor diet. Cracks are most often caused by dental injury.

Symptoms of a dental abscess include pain that is sharp or throbbing. The tooth is sensitive to hot, cold, or pressure. The gums can be red and swollen. Your child may also have a swollen neck or jaw and a fever. Some children have a bitter taste in the mouth or bad breath.

Antibiotics are given to treat the infection. In some cases, your child may need a root canal to save the tooth. In rare cases, the child may need surgery to drain the abscess.

Home care

Your child’s healthcare provider may prescribe medicines for infection, pain, and fever. He or she may also prescribe fluoride tablets to help prevent tooth decay. Follow all instructions for giving these medicines to your child. If your child is given an antibiotic, make sure to give all the medicine for the full number of days until it is gone. Keep giving the medicine even if your child has no symptoms.

General care

  • Use an ice pack for up to 20 minutes several times a day. This is to help reduce pain and ease swelling. To make an ice pack, put ice cubes in a plastic bag that seals at the top. Wrap the bag in a thin, dry towel or cloth before putting it on your child’s skin.

  • Have your child rinse their mouth with warm saltwater. This will help reduce irritation, gum swelling, and pain. Make sure your child does not swallow the rinse.

  • Help your child have good oral hygiene. Brush your child’s teeth or have your child brush their teeth at least twice a day. Use a fluoride toothpaste and soft-bristle toothbrush. Help your child with areas that are hard to reach, such as back molars.

  • Offer your child a variety of healthy foods to eat. Have your child eat a healthy diet that doesn’t include many sugary foods and drinks.

Special notes to parents

  • Babies ages 6 to 11 months. Teeth begin to come in around age 6 months. Brush your child’s teeth to prevent cavities. Make sure your child has dental checkups as soon as teeth come in. Ask the dentist how often your child should be seen.

  • Children ages 12 months to 3 years. By the time a child is 3 years old, they will have a full set of baby teeth. It’s important to brush baby teeth to prevent cavities. Decay in baby teeth can affect permanent teeth.

  • Children ages 6 and up. Around the ages 6 to 7, permanent teeth start coming in. It’s important to brush permanent teeth to prevent cavities. Make sure your child has regular dental checkups. Ask the dentist how often your child should be seen.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider, or as advised.

When to get medical advice

Call your child's healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Fever (see "Fever and children" below)

  • Pain and swelling in your child's neck or face

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Redness or swelling that doesn’t go away

  • Pain that gets worse

  • Bad-smelling fluid coming from the tooth

Fever and children

Use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Don’t use a mercury thermometer. There are different kinds of digital thermometers. They include ones for the mouth, ear, forehead (temporal), rectum, or armpit. Ear temperatures aren’t accurate before 6 months of age. Don’t take an oral temperature until your child is at least 4 years old.

Use a rectal thermometer with care. It may accidentally poke a hole in the rectum. It may pass on germs from the stool. Follow the product maker’s directions for correct use. If you don’t feel OK using a rectal thermometer, use another type. When you talk to your child’s healthcare provider, tell him or her which type you used.

Below are guidelines to know if your child has a fever. Your child’s healthcare provider may give you different numbers for your child.

A baby under 3 months old:

  • First, ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead: 100.4°F (38°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 99°F (37.2°C) or higher

A child age 3 months to 36 months (3 years):

  • Rectal, forehead, or ear: 102°F (38.9°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 101°F (38.3°C) or higher

Call the healthcare provider in these cases:

  • Repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher

  • Fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under age 2

  • Fever that lasts for 3 days in a child age 2 or older

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