How Do I Know If I Have a Tooth Abscess?

Toothaches are relatively common and can cause excruciating pain. In some cases, a patient may notice swelling in the gum or jaw. The tooth can even change in color. Patients who find it difficult to open the mouth or have a sour taste in their mouth could be experience signs of a severe tooth infection. The teeth contain many nerves, which make a toothache incredibly painful. In some cases, the pain could be related to another type of oral health problem which require treatment.


Tooth Abscess

A tooth abscess is a pocket of pus. It can be on the surface of the teeth and gums or below the surface. The cause of an abscess is a bacterial infection. It requires prompt treatment from the dentist as a tooth abscess does not go away without intervention.


Tooth infections and abscesses which are not treated can result in life-threatening conditions when the infection spreads to other parts of the body. When patients do not receive prompt treatment, they are also at an increased risk for complete loss of the tooth.


The following are common signs and symptoms associated with a tooth infection or abscess:

  1. Sensitivity to hot and cold, acidic, and sugary foods
  2. Tooth color changes
  3. Swelling in areas of the face, jaw, and gums
  4. Swelling around a tooth that looks like a pimple
  5. Foul breath or a sour taste in the mouth
  6. Drainage on the gum or near the impacted tooth
  7. Challenges moving jaw, eating, or opening mouth
  8. Throbbing and persistent pain in the mouth
  9. Pain which becomes worse when laying down
  10. Headache or earache
  11. Fever
  12. Sickness, body aches, or flu-like symptoms

 Common causes for a tooth infection include:

  • Untreated decay or cavities
  • Poor oral hygiene practices
  • Consuming large amounts of acidic or sugary foods
  • Dental work which is broken or damaged such as a filling or crown
  • Compromised immune system
  • Injury to the mouth, teeth, or gums
  • Smoking habits
  • Dry mouth
  • Chipped or cracked tooth
  • Excess plaque or gum disease



Patients with signs of a tooth infection should contact their dentist right away. There are various treatments which can be used, however it is important to remember that treatment is required as the infection will not go away by itself.


Patients who have symptoms which go away or pain which subsides does not indicate that the infection is gone. The infection can actually kill the nerves which cause pain in the tooth, eliminating the sensation of pain. Unfortunately, the infection is still present. In addition, it spread to other parts of the body and cause serious damage to the surrounding teeth and gums.


The following procedures are commonly used in the treatment of a tooth abscess. The dentist or endodontist can perform a root canal. During this procedure, the infected pulp in the teeth is removed and treated in order to prevent additional infection from occurring. Patients can also be prescribed antibiotics to eliminate the infection. Antibiotics are commonly used prior to a root canal procedure as well. Some dentists place patients on antibiotics following treatment to ensure the infection does not spread. Abscesses can also be drained. The dentist will make a small incision or cut the tooth to allow for the pus and infection to run out. In severe cases where the tooth cannot be repaired and infection has destroyed it, the dentist may extract the tooth. Once the infection is treated, patience can pursue tooth-replacement such as a dental implant in order to restore the appearance and function of the missing tooth.

Is a Dental Abscess an Emergency