Is a Dental Abscess an Emergency?

A tooth abscess is one of the most common causes for patients to seek emergency dental treatment. When the condition remains untreated, it can result in serious consequences. It is important for patients to be familiar with the warning signs of infection and symptoms of a tooth abscess to help avoid long-term issues. The following article will discuss common causes for a tooth abscess, signs of the condition, and treatment options.

Tooth abscesses are quite painful and considered a serious dental emergency. Abscesses are an area of pus caused by a bacterial infection. It causes pain, swelling, and require immediate attention from a dentist for treatment. The actual infection takes place in or near the tooth’s root which contains blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue. It is also possible for an abscess to exist between the gum and the tooth.


In most cases, a tooth abscess is caused by severe tooth decay or damage. This can be initially caused by a chipped or broken tooth which eventually becomes infected. When the tooth’s enamel wears down over time, it allows bacteria to enter the tooth. Another common cause for an abscess is an untreated dental cavity. Gum disease which remains untreated can also cause an abscess, especially when the patient has advanced gum disease or periodontitis. While it is rare, severe cases allow the infection from the tooth abscess to spread to the bones in the jaw. This can lead to tooth loss or even allow the infection to spread into other parts of the body.


Signs and Symptoms

In order to avoid serious consequences such as tooth loss or the spread of infection, patients should seek treatment right away. Common signs of a tooth abscess include:

  • Severe toothache or pain
  • Fever
  • Red, swollen gums
  • Swelling in the neck and jaw
  • Sensitivity to hot and cold or sugary food and drinks
  • Drainage from the abscess
  • Bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth


While treatment for a tooth abscess can vary based on the needs of the patients, below are treatments which are commonly used.


Drain the Abscess

A highly effective treatment for an abscess is to drain the infection. The dentist will make a small incision in the abscess which allows the pus to drain. In some cases, the dentist may also clean the affected area with a saline solution. Dead or damaged tissue may be removed as well during the procedure.


Root Canal

Root canals are a procedure where the dentist or endodontist removes the nerve, arteries and vein located in the root. Root canals aid in removing infection and preserving the tooth. A crown can be placed over the tooth if needed, to provide additional strength.



An abscess cannot always be drained. Serious infections can reduce the effectiveness of a local anesthetic, which makes it difficult to numb the area being treated. It is especially difficult to number the area when infection is present in the lower molars. The dentist may place the patient on an antibiotic before or after treatment to help fight the infection. This can also increase the effectiveness of the local anesthetics.



When the tooth is infected or damaged beyond repair, it will be extracted. Removal of the tooth is typically the last resort, but sometimes necessary. Once the mouth heals, there are tooth-replacement solutions such as a dental implant which can be used.


A tooth abscess is indeed considered a dental emergency. Patients with signs or symptoms of a tooth abscess should follow up with their dentist right away for treatment. When an abscess remains untreated, it can result in the spread of infection can cause serious, life-threatening problems. Prompt action is also critical in preserving the natural tooth.

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