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Tooth Abscess

What Is a Tooth Abscess?

A tooth abscess happens when a tooth fills with pus and other infected material. This occurs after the center of a tooth becomes infected with bacteria. It’s typically a result of tooth decay or a broken or chipped tooth. Bacteria can seep into the tooth’s center (pulp) when the tooth’s enamel is broken.

After the tooth is infected, pus collects inside the tooth and causes swelling and pain commonly known as a toothache. Without proper attention, the infection can spread from the pulp and out to the bones supporting the teeth


Pain is the main symptom of a tooth abscess. Other symptoms may include:

  • sensitivity to hot or cold
  • pain when chewing
  • bitter taste in the mouth
  • swollen or red gums
  • bad breath
  • fever
  • swollen glands in the neck
  • swollen upper or lower jaw

In a case where the tooth’s root dies, the pain will stop. However, the infection could continue to the supporting bones and create serious problems.


If you can’t see your dentist immediately, you can use over-the-counter pain relievers or warm salt-water rinses to ease the pain and provide temporary relief.

Only your dentist can treat a tooth abscess. Your dentist’s main goal will be to save the tooth by draining the abscess and ridding the mouth of infection. Antibiotics may be given to fight the infection. A root canal may be needed in order to save the tooth. If the tooth cannot be saved and the infection is serious enough, the tooth may need to be removed. If serious enough, you might be hospitalized to prevent the infection from causing more intense problems.

Content licensed from:

Written by: The Healthline Editorial Team
Medically reviewed on: Nov 10, 2014: George Krucik, MD, MBA

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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