A tooth abscess occurs when a tooth fills with pus and other infected material after the center of a tooth becomes infected with bacteria. A tooth abscess occurs as a result of tooth decay or a broken or chipped tooth. When the tooth’s enamel is broken, bacteria can seep into the tooth’s center (sometimes called the “pulp”).
After the tooth is infected, pus—which is made up of dead tissue, white blood cells, and bacteria—collects inside the tooth, causing 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
- swollen glands in the neck
- swollen upper or lower jaw
In a case where the tooth’s root dies, the pain will stop, but the infection could continue to the supporting bones, which can create serious problems.
If you cannot 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, but 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.