A tooth abscess is a sac of infected material called pus in a tooth or the gums.
Abscess Between Tooth and Gum
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Bacteria cause a tooth abscess. It begins when bacteria invade and infect a tooth. This results in pus build-up. When the pus is unable to drain, an abscess results.
Conditions that allow bacteria to invade a tooth include:
tooth decayBreak or crack in a tooth that lets bacteria invade the pulpFailed root canal treatment
Factors that may increase your risk of developing a tooth abscess include: Build up of tartar or calculus beneath the gum linePoor dental hygiene leading to cavities and periodontal diseases
Symptoms of a tooth abscess include: Throbbing/lingering pain in a tooth or gum areaPain when bitingPain from hot or coldSudden tooth painRedness, tenderness, or swelling of the gumsFeverBad breath or foul taste in mouthOpen, draining sore on the gums
If left untreated, complications of tooth abscess include: Loss of tooth and surrounding tissues or boneSpread of infection to surrounding tissue or bone
Your dentist will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A detailed exam of your teeth and gums will be done.
Images may need to be taken of the tooth and surrounding bone. This can be done with
A sample of the abscess fluid may be taken and tested.
If an abscess results from tooth decay or a break or crack in the tooth:
The tooth and surrounding tissue is numbed and a hole is drilled through the top of the tooth.Pus and dead tissue are removed from the center of the tooth.The interior of the tooth and the root canals are cleaned and filled with a permanent filling.A crown is placed on the tooth to protect it.
If an abscess results from infection between the tooth and gum:
The abscess is drained and thoroughly cleaned.The root surface of tooth is cleaned and smoothed.In some cases, surgery to reshape the gum is done to prevent a repeat infection.
Removal of the tooth may be required if:
Tooth decay and/or tooth infection is too extensive for filling or root canal treatment.The break or crack in the tooth is too severe to be repaired.The infection or loss of tissue/bone between the tooth and gum is severe.
If the tooth is extracted, it will be replaced with a:
Partial bridgeDentureTooth implant
Antibiotics to fight residual infection of the tooth or gumsNonprescription pain relief drugs such as ibuprofen
To help reduce your chance of getting a tooth abscess, follow proper dental hygiene: Brush your teeth
with fluoride toothpaste after meals or at least twice per day.
between your teeth and gums
Get regular dental check-ups and teeth and gum clearnings every six months.
Beers MH, Fletcher AJ.
The Merck Manual of Medical Information—Home Edition
. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, Inc.; 2000.
Last reviewed September 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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