Symptoms and Signs of Dental Abscess

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 7/12/2022

Doctor's Notes on Dental Abscess

A dental abscess is a localized bacterial infection inside of a tooth, in the gum tissue, or in the bone surrounding a tooth. Poor dental care is a risk factor for developing a dental abscess, since growth of bacteria from a dental cavity is a primary cause. Certain medications, poor diet, and alcoholism are other factors that increase the likelihood of getting a tooth abscess.

Pain at the involved site is the primary symptom of a dental abscess. There is a collection of pus at the infection site that may rupture and drain into the surrounding tissues. Other associated signs and symptoms can include redness and swelling of the gums, mouth, or face. Jaw pain, fever, chills, sweats, and malaise may also accompany the condition.

What Is the Treatment for a Dental Abscess?

Treatment depends on how much the tooth infection has spread. Typically, the tooth is opened to remove the infected contents within the pulp chamber. If needed, incision and drainage is performed on the gums and surrounding soft tissue. Oral antibiotics are usually given, as well. Once the infection is cleared and the tooth can be restored, a root canal procedure is performed. The root canal procedure cleans out the entire inner space of the tooth (pulp chamber and the associated canals) and seals the space with an inert rubber material. If the infection is severe and tooth structure or bone have been lost, the tooth may need to be extracted. Similarly, abscesses in primary (baby) teeth in children typically require the extraction of the tooth.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.