Frequently Asked Questions

Dental Abscess

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What is a dental abscess?

A dental abscess is a collection of pus in or around a tooth.

What causes a dental abscess?

A dental abscess is caused by bacteria. The bacteria usually enter the tooth when the enamel (outer part of the tooth) is damaged by tooth decay. Bacteria may also enter after an injury to the tooth, such as when a tooth is broken or chipped. Procedures on the tooth or gums may also cause a dental abscess. Food particles that are stuck between the teeth for a long time may also lead to an abscess.

What increases my risk of a dental abscess?

  • Medical conditions, such as diabetes, gastric reflux, or diseases that weaken the immune system

  • Dry mouth or very little saliva

  • Smoking or drinking alcohol

  • Radiation therapy of the head and neck

  • Certain medicines, such as steroids, allergy or blood pressure medicines

What are the signs and symptoms of a dental abscess?

  • Toothache, a loose tooth, or a tooth that is very sensitive to pressure or temperature

  • Bad breath, unpleasant taste, and drooling

  • Fever

  • Pain, redness, and swelling of the gums, or swelling of your face and neck

  • Pain or difficulty when you open or close your mouth

How is a dental abscess diagnosed?

Your caregiver will examine your teeth and gums. He will check for pus, redness, swelling, or a mass. You may also have any of the following:

  • X-rays: X-rays of your mouth will show broken teeth or fluid buildup.

  • Needle aspiration: A needle will be used to take the fluid out of the abscess. The fluid is sent to a lab for tests. These tests may show what is causing your abscess.

How is a dental abscess treated?

Treatment is done to cure your abscess and prevent more serious problems.

  • Medicines:

    • Antibiotics: This medicine will help fight your infection. Take your antibiotics until they are gone, even if you feel better.

    • Ibuprofen or acetaminophen: These medicines decrease pain and lower a fever. They are available without a doctor's order. Ask your caregiver which medicine is right for you. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. These medicines can cause stomach bleeding if not taken correctly. Ibuprofen can cause kidney damage. Do not take ibuprofen if you have kidney disease, an ulcer, or allergies to aspirin. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage. Do not drink alcohol if you take acetaminophen.

  • Incision and drainage: Your caregiver makes a cut in the abscess to allow the pus to drain. Ask your caregiver for more information.

  • Debridement: Your caregiver may cut away damaged, dead, or infected tissue to help the wounds heal.

What are the risks of a dental abscess?

Pus may need to be drained more than once. You may become dehydrated if you cannot drink due to pain or swelling. The abscess may burst and the infection may spread to the rest of your body. Even with successful treatment, the infection may come back. Your airway may become blocked and cause breathing problems. Depending on its location, the abscess may spread to the throat, cheek, or face. The infection can also spread to the blood. These problems can be life-threatening.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • Your abscess returns.

  • You have an injury that causes a crack in your tooth.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have severe pain.

  • Your symptoms get worse, even after treatment.

  • Your mouth is bleeding.

  • You cannot eat or drink because of pain or swelling.

  • You have trouble breathing because of pain or swelling.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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