A tooth infection, sometimes called an abscessed tooth, causes a pocket of pus to form in your mouth due to a bacterial infection. It’s usually caused by:

Tooth infections can cause:

  • pain
  • sensitivity
  • swelling

Left untreated, they can also spread to nearby areas, including your brain.

If you have a tooth infection, see a dentist as soon as possible to prevent the infection from spreading. You’ll want to be careful with any infection in your head, especially in your mouth since it’s close to your brain. Your dentist will likely prescribe an antibiotic to help kill the bacteria causing your tooth infection.

Read on to learn more about the types of antibiotics used to treat tooth infections and over-the-counter options for pain relief.

Not all tooth infections require antibiotics. In some cases, your dentist may be able to drain the abscess. Other cases might require a root canal or removal of the infected tooth.

Antibiotics are generally used when:

  • your infection is severe
  • your infection has spread
  • you have a weakened immune system

The type of antibiotic you’ll need depends on the type of bacteria causing the infection. Different classes of antibiotics have different ways of attacking bacteria. Your dentist will want to choose an antibiotic that can effectively eliminate your infection.

Antibiotics of the penicillin class, such as penicillin and amoxicillin, are most commonly used to help treat tooth infections.

An antibiotic called metronidazole may be given for some types of bacterial infections. It’s sometimes prescribed with penicillin in order to cover a larger variety of bacterial species.

While penicillin antibiotics are common used for tooth infections, many people are allergic to them. Make sure to tell your dentist about any allergic reactions you’ve had in the past to medications.

If you’re allergic to penicillin, your dentist might a different antibiotic, such as clindamycin or erythromycin.

If you have a tooth infection that requires antibiotics, you’ll need to take them for about one week. Depending on the type of antibiotic, you’ll need to take a dose two to four times a day.

You should receive instructions from your pharmacy detailing exactly how to take the antibiotic. You can ask the pharmacist if you’re not sure about how to take a medication.

Keep in mind that you might have to take a few courses of antibiotics before they get into your system and begin acting on the infection.

Always take the entire course of antibiotics prescribed by your dentist, even if your symptoms seem to disappear. If you don’t take the entire course, some bacteria may survive, making it harder to treat the infection.

You should always see your dentist if you have a tooth infection. Your teeth are very close to your brain and a tooth infection can quickly spread to nearby areas and organs.

Antibiotics aren’t available without a prescription, but there are a few things you can do at home for relief before your appointment, such as:

  • taking over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • gently rinsing your mouth with warm salt water
  • avoiding hot or cold foods whenever possible
  • trying to chew with the opposite side of your mouth
  • brushing with a soft toothbrush around the affected tooth

You can also try these 10 home remedies for an abscessed tooth.

If you’re having symptoms of a tooth infection, such as persistent throbbing pain, swelling, and sensitivity to temperature or pressure, see a doctor or dentist as soon as possible.

If your dentist prescribes antibiotics, follow the instructions carefully and finish the prescription. Even if the infection seems mild, it can quickly become serious without proper treatment.