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Tooth abscesses

A dental abscess is a collection of pus that can form inside the teeth, in the gums, or in the bone that holds the teeth in place. It's caused by a bacterial infection. A tooth abscess is an infection inside the tooth itself, and an abscess at the end of a tooth, which is more commonly called a periapical abscess. If you think you might have a dental abscess, it’s really important to see your dentist as soon as possible, because abscesses don’t go away by themselves. Not only can they be very painful, but without prompt treatment, you could end up having to have your tooth extracted.


Where can you get a dental abscess?

You can get abscesses inside your tooth, in your jawbone, or in your gums (called a periodontal abscess). Wisdom teeth can be prone to infections and abscesses. You can also get them in your cheek, under your tongue or even in your throat. They’re usually called ‘dental’ abscesses even if they’re not actually in your tooth, just because they’re in your mouth and require a dentist’s care.

What is a dental abscess?

If visible, an abscess looks like a sore. It’s a pocket of pus that has gathered under the skin. They can be caused by a range of things, including injury, a pre-existing medical condition, or not looking after your oral hygiene properly. For as long as you have the infection, the pus will continue to build up, which is why it tends to get more painful. Eventually the abscess may burst, or it may need to be drained.

What are the symptoms of a tooth abscess?

A dental abscess may give you symptoms such as:

  • A sharp pain or toothache in the affected area; this may spread to other areas, like your ear (although not every abscess is painful)
  • Heat, redness and/or swelling in the affected area, due to inflammation
  • Sensitivity to hot and cold food and drinks

What should you do if you have an abscess?

  • Make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible, and tell them you think you may have a dental abscess
  • If it’s very sore, take an over-the-counter treatment, which contains both an anti-inflammatory and a painkiller, for example Ibuprofen, rather than a painkiller alone
  • Avoid hot foods and drinks and try to use the other side of your mouth
  • Don’t stop brushing your teeth but use a soft toothbrush around the affected area
  • If you want more advice and information, refer to the NHS website.

How are tooth abscesses treated?

You shouldn’t delay treatment for a dental abscess because it’s a bacterial infection.

If it is confirmed as a tooth abscess, your dentist may drain it and may also do a root canal treatment to make sure your tooth stays healthy.

They may prescribe antibiotics for the infection. If they do, follow the instructions for taking the antibiotics and make sure you finish the course, or the infection may not completely clear resulting in a return of symptoms including pain and swelling.

How do you avoid getting an abscess?

  • Visit your dentist regularly for check-ups
  • See your hygienist as often as your dentist recommends, to make sure your teeth get a regular deep clean and to follow oral hygiene tips and advice at home
  • Before you brush your teeth, clean between them with floss or inter-dental brushes
  • Brush your teeth twice a day at home, for two minutes each time
  • Try not to rinse your teeth after brushing because it washes away any fluoride in your toothpaste
  • Use an antibacterial mouthwash 30 minutes after brushing

Think you might have a dental abscess?

Follow the guidance on this page and ask your dentist for an appointment as soon as possible.

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Bupa Dental Care is a trading name of Oasis Healthcare Limited. Registered in England and Wales number: 03257078. Registered office: Bupa Dental Care Vantage Office Park, Old Gloucester Road, Hambrook, Bristol, United Kingdom BS16 1GW.

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