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Health Information Center

Tooth Abscess

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Tooth Abscess

(Dental Abscess; Abscessed Tooth)


A tooth abscess is a sac of infected material called pus in a tooth or the gums. Early treatment can prevent tooth loss and the spread of infection to tissue and bone.

Abscess Between Tooth and Gum.

Abscess toothhttp://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=73957395si55551737.jpgsi55551737.jpgNULLjpgsi55551737.jpgNULL\\hgfiler01a\intellect\images\si55551737.jpgNULL75NULL2008-11-07254394Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


A tooth abscess is caused by bacteria. It begins when bacteria invade and infect the tissue around a tooth. This results in pus build-up. An abscess happens when the pus cannot drain.

Problems that allow bacteria to invade a tooth are:

  • Severe tooth decay
  • A break or crack in a tooth
  • Failed root canal treatment
  • Advanced periodontitis
  • Dental trauma

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of this problem are:

  • A build up of tartar beneath the gum line
  • Poor dental hygiene


A person with an abscess may have:

  • Throbbing and pain in a tooth or gum area
  • Sudden tooth pain
  • Pain when biting
  • Pain from hot or cold
  • Redness, tenderness, or swelling of the gums
  • Fever
  • Bad breath or a foul taste in the mouth
  • An open, draining sore on the gums
  • A loose tooth


The dentist will ask about symptoms and health history. A dental exam will be done.

Images may be taken of the tooth and the bone around it. This can be done with x-rays.

A sample of the abscess fluid may be taken and tested.


The goal of treatment is to ease symptoms and treat the infection. Options are:


To lower the risk of this problem:

  • Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and brush with fluoride toothpaste after meals or at least twice per day.
  • Floss every day.
  • Get regular dental check-ups and teeth and gum cleanings every six months.




  • Abscess (toothache). Mouth Healthy—American Dental Association website. Available at: https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/a/abscess.
  • Acute apical dental abscess. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/acute-apical-dental-abscess.
  • Dental abscess. NHSinform website. Available at: https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/mouth/dental-abscess.
  • Toothache and Infection. The Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/dental-disorders/symptoms-of-dental-and-oral-disorders/toothache-and-infection.


  • Mary-Beth Seymour, RN
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.