Dental Abscess Symptoms and Causes

Tooth abscesses are a pocket of pus which can accumulate on the tooth or gums. It is caused by a bacterial infection and can be caused by different things. There are two types of abscesses, periapical and periodontal. Periapical abscesses are at the tip of the root and periodontal abscesses are located in the gums next to the tooth’s root. Periapical abscesses are more common.


Tooth abscesses are typically caused by issues such as an untreated cavity, an injury to the mouth, or damaged dental work. The infection often results in irritation, inflammation, and swelling, causing the development of an abscess at the tip of the tooth’s root.


A tooth abscess is often treated by the dentist draining it and eliminating the infection. In some cases, a root canal is performed in an effort to salvage the tooth. Unfortunately, sometimes the tooth cannot be saved and must be removed. When patients neglect to get a tooth abscess treated, it can result in the further spread of infection and cause serious, life-threatening problems.


Below are common signs and symptoms associated with a tooth abscess:

  1. Fever
  2. Throbbing toothache which may spread into the jawbone, neck, and ear
  3. Sensitivity to hot and cold, sugary and acidic food and drinks
  4. Pain or discomfort from chewing
  5. Swelling in the face, cheek or neck
  6. Lymph nodes which are tender or swollen
  7. Bad taste or smell in the mouth
  8. Foul-smelling and tasting, salty fluid in the mouth when the abscess ruptures


Abscesses should be taken seriously and patients should follow up with their dentist if they have any of the above signs or symptoms associated with a tooth abscess. Patients with a fever and swelling in the neck or face who are unable to contact their dentist should proceed to the nearest emergency room. Any patient who is having difficulty swallowing or breathing should also go directly to the emergency. This can suggest the infection spread into other parts of the throat, neck, jaw or other parts of the body.



A tooth abscess occurs when bacteria reaches the dental pulp, which is the innermost portion of the tooth. The pulp contains blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue. In most cases, bacteria enter through a cavity, chip, or crack and then spreads to the tooth’s root. The bacterial infection which occurs can result in swelling or inflammation at the root’s tip.


The following risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing a tooth abscess:

  1. Poor oral hygiene: Patients who fail to properly care for their teeth and gums can be at risk for serious dental problems. Good oral hygiene includes brushing the teeth at least twice daily and daily flossing. Common issues can include decay, gum disease, tooth abscess, and other oral health problems.
  2. Sugary diet: Frequent consumption of food and drinks which are high in sugar can lead to dental cavities which may turn into a tooth abscess. Patients should minimize the consumption of sugar, and focus on eating a well-balanced diet.
  3. Dry mouth: Patients with a chronically dry mouth are at an increased risk for tooth decay. In many cases, a dry mouth is the side effect of a medication or associated with the natural aging process.


If you think you may have a tooth abscess, follow up with your dentist for the next available appointment. Abscesses are a serious issue which should be treated in a timely manner.

Extracting Abscessed Tooth