An Overview of Dental Abscesses

Dental abscesses are pockets of pus and bacteria that develop in or around the teeth. If an abscess is left untreated, it can lead to tooth loss, sinus infection, and more serious health problems. Here is an overview of the types and symptoms of dental abscesses and how they are treated.

Dental Abscess Types

The classification of a dental abscess is based on where the infection started in your mouth. Abscesses that are located inside of the tooth attacking the pulp are known as periapical abscesses. These are normally caused by severe cavities that allow bacteria to infiltrate the pulp, or a failed root canal.

Some dental abscesses originate in the soft tissues surrounding the teeth, such as the periodontal ligament or cementum. These are known as periodontal abscesses. While a periodontal abscess does not kill the nearby tooth directly, it can wear away supporting tissues to the point that they are no longer able to hold the tooth in place and it falls out.


The symptoms of dental abscesses are similar to those of many other types of infection. You will usually first notice pain, swelling, and temperature sensitivity that is localized to the area of the abscess. You may also experience a constant foul taste in your mouth and bad breath.

Over time, the pain of your abscess can start to spread into your jaw, neck, and ears. This occurs when the abscess is no longer containing all of the infection and it starts to spread. In severe cases, full-body aches and a high fever will develop. It is important to have the abscess treated before it reaches this stage to protect your overall health and avoid unnecessary complications.

At-Home Pain Management

Not everyone who is suffering from a dental abscess will be able to visit their dentist right away. You should be aware of a few simple ways you can manage the pain at home so that you can maximize your comfort while you are waiting for your appointment with the dentist.

Over-the-counter pain medication can help to dull the pain of an abscess, but there are other, more direct methods of pain relief that can provide better results. Rinsing your mouth with salt water can dull pain and draw out some of the pus to relieve pressure in the abscess. Another effective method is to coat a cotton swab with clove oil and hold it against the abscess. This works because clove oil contains eugenol, a natural anesthetic that reduces pain and inflammation.

Professional Treatment

Treatment for dental abscesses varies depending on the type of abscess you are suffering from. Treatments for both types starts with numbing the area using a local anesthetic. Periapical abscesses - those located inside the tooth - are treated using a root canal. The pus and bacteria, as well as the entire tooth pulp, are removed, and then the tooth is filled with a synthetic substance known as gutta-percha. This prevents a periapical abscess from recurring inside the tooth.

Periodontal abscesses - those located around the tooth - are treated by making a small incision in the tissue near the tooth to drain the pus and bacteria out of the abscess. The dentist will then use small metal tools to scrape bacteria and hard tartar off of the roots of any nearby teeth.

If your abscess recurs after these initial surgeries, the next step is usually extracting the affected tooth or teeth. An oral surgeon will perform this procedure, and may also reshape the gums or remove the dental socket to minimize the chances that another abscess will develop.

Understanding the dangers, symptoms for dental abscesses will help you visit your dentist early enough for effective treatment. Contact local dental services if you are concerned that you may have an abscess or are looking for more information about the treatment process.