What is a dental abscess?

A dental abscess is caused by a bacterial infection. If you think you may have a dental abscess or experience any of the symptoms below, you should look to arrange an appointment with our dentists as soon as possible to avoid further pain and discomfort and to stop the infection from spreading.

Symptoms of a dental abscess

Dental abscesses occur when a tooth, gum, or bone supporting your teeth becomes infected. Patients with a dental abscess can often experience a mix of symptoms including:

  • Sharp and throbbing pain that comes and goes at the affected tooth or gum. The pain may often be most noticeable when you’re lying down or exerting pressure on your jaw. The pain may also noticeably spread in the surrounding area e.g., neck, jaw, and even ear
  • Swollen or red face or gums
  • Fever
  • Sensitive teeth e.g., sensitive to hot or cold as well as chewing or biting
  • Swollen lymph nodes under your neck or jaw
  • A tooth may appear to be loose or slightly discoloured
  • A particularly foul taste in your mouth that may result in bad breath
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing

If you experience severe fever, swelling of the face, or extreme difficulty breathing, you should attempt to see a doctor immediately.

Speak to a dental professional today

Our dentists have all the experience, skill and technology required to diagnose and treat your dental abscess. Arrange an appointment with our dental team at our central London dental clinic, situated on the prestigious Wimpole Street.

What causes dental abscesses?

Dental abscesses are bacterial infections that happen when bacteria invade the dental pulp (the inside of the tooth comprised of nerves, tissue, and blood vessels). Abscesses typically occur when the bacteria have managed to access the pulp via chips, cavities, or cracks.

There are several potential causes that can increase the risk of a tooth or gum abscess (also known as a periodontal abscess):

  • Too much sugar – consuming too much sugar as part of your diet can lead to tooth decay and cavities that allow bacteria to easily invade your dental pulp. Drinking too many fizzy drinks and eating foods high in sugar is likely to weaken your teeth.
  • Poor oral hygiene – failing to brush and floss your teeth regularly will lead to tooth decay and potentially a tooth abscess. Poor oral hygiene can also increase the risk of gum disease. Regular check-up appointments with your dentist and hygienist will help monitor, and prevent, the early signs of poor oral hygiene.
  • Injury or trauma – sudden trauma to your teeth or gums such as cracking or chipping a tooth can allow the bacteria to easily infect the dental pulp. You should also see your dentist to take preventative measures when you suffer any form of oral trauma. Furthermore, some patients can develop dental abscesses more easily following surgery. You should always follow your dentist’s aftercare guidance to avoid infection.
  • Weak immune system – patients who have a weakened immune system (potentially caused by underlying health conditions like diabetes or after undergoing treatment such as chemotherapy) may be more susceptible to bacterial infection. Speak with your dentist and/or doctor for guidance on preventative measures you can take to try avoiding a dental abscess.

Treatment for an abscess in the mouth

Unfortunately, there is no quick and easy way to treat an abscess in the mouth. Taking preventative steps as mentioned above is the best way to avoid an abscess in the first place.

If you suspect that you have a dental abscess you should look to make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible as to avoid the infection from spreading or becoming more complex.

Your dentist will then be able to judge what the best treatment option is available. Dental treatment options available to you include:

Incision & drainage

A dentist will make a small cut, or incision, into the gum in order to drain the pus from the abscess. This should relieve some of the discomfort (but won’t usually resolve the issue permanently).

Root canal treatment

Root canal may be required to remove the abscess from the affected tooth. This is the most common course of treatment for dental abscesses. The treatment involves cleaning out the bacteria from the affected tooth and then filling and sealing the affected area. Root canal may be preferable to extraction as it saves the natural tooth.

Tooth extraction

If root canal treatment isn’t possible, then your dentist may decide that the best way to treat the abscess is to extract the tooth entirely.