Exploring Tooth Abscess: Stages, Symptoms, and Treatments

The presence of an abscess tooth indicates the presence of an infection. It’s a sign that should not be ignored, as this condition can be life-threatening. Common dental problems like tooth decay, gum disease, and fractured teeth can lead to a tooth abscess.

Exploring Tooth Abscess: Stages, Symptoms, and Treatments

There are several signs and tooth abscess symptoms to watch out for, especially abscess tooth swelling. Infection can spread to other parts of the body like your throat and lungs inducing swelling and make it hard for you to breathe, for instance. This article will give complete information about symptoms, causes, treatments, and prevention tips for Tooth Abscess.

  • Hospital emergency room visits related to a dental abscess and other dental issues are very common.
  • A study reported that approximately 1 per 2,600 of the population in the United States are admitted to the hospital emergency room for dental infection.

What is Tooth Abscess?

What is an abscess tooth? What does an abscess tooth look like? If you are wondering the answer to these questions, look no further. Below we will explain what you need to watch out for when it comes to a tooth abscess.

An abscess tooth is a bacterial infection that can cause many serious health problems if left untreated. It commonly appears as a raised pimple on the gums surrounding a tooth that is potentially damaged or infected. Inside the ‘pimple’ is a collection of bacterial pus, that can be painful until the infection is drained. You will likely notice both inflammation and swelling around the abscess tooth.

Types of Abscessed Tooth

There are several different types of tooth abscesses depending on their location in the mouth. In this paragraph we will discuss the various types, including periodontal, gingival, pericoronal, periapical, and combined periodontic-endodontic abscesses.

Periodontal Abscess

Periodontal abscesses are often located on the gums near a tooth’s root. This type of abscess often significantly impacts the tooth’s surrounding tissue and bone. One of the main causes of a periodontal abscess is gum disease.

Gingival Abscess

A gingival abscess can be found on the gum tissues. This infection typically does not affect the tooth or its’ supporting structures.

Pericoronal Abscess

A pericoronal abscess is usually found on the gum tissue surrounding the dental crown portion of a partially or fully erupted tooth. This type of abscess is sometimes referred to as a wisdom tooth abscess due to its common association with impacted wisdom teeth.

Periapical Abscess

A periapical abscess can be found at the tip of a tooth’s root. Bacteria that have spread and infected the inside layer of a tooth, the dental pulp, will often invade the tooth’s root. This can cause infection and swelling around the root which can eventually destroy the surrounding bone too.

Combined Periodontic-Endodontic Abscess

Combined periodontic-endodontic abscesses typically impact a specific tooth or multiple teeth in one area. The bacterial infection may come from the dental pulp, the surrounding periodontal tissues, or both.

Stages of Tooth Abscess

There are several tooth abscess stages that continue to progress if left untreated. It is important to familiarize yourself with tooth abscess stages pictures so that you can be aware of what to look out for in your mouth. The earlier you treat a dental abscess, the more likely you are to stop the infection from spreading.

Enamel Decay

Tooth enamel is the outermost layer of teeth. If bacteria buildup in the mouth, they form a sticky film known as dental plaque, which can break down tooth enamel and cause it to decay. Over time, this can lead to the development of pus and form a dental abscess. Without proper oral hygiene to thoroughly eliminate plaque from your teeth and gums, you will be at a high risk to develop dental disease.

Dentin Decay

The dentin is the second layer of teeth positioned right underneath the dental enamel. Dentin is much softer and more susceptible to decay than dental enamel. Once the dentin is penetrated, bacteria can spread fast, and you will likely develop tooth sensitivity and other uncomfortable symptoms.

Tooth Pulp Infection

The innermost layer of teeth is the dental pulp. The pulp contains blood vessels and nerve endings which can trigger pain if penetrated by bacteria. Bacteria can destroy the nerves within the tooth causing them to die and cause the formation of a dental abscess.

Abscess Formation

As tooth decay progresses and bacteria continues to spread throughout the tooth, the formation of an abscess will begin. Dental abscesses can continue to penetrate deep into the gums and jawbone. The formation of an abscess typically is accompanied with gum redness, swelling, and pain.

Tooth Loss

In extreme cases, an untreated abscess will ultimately result in tooth loss. You will likely experience throbbing pain and notice tooth mobility. The dental abscess erodes the jawbone that supports teeth, and when deteriorated can lead to tooth loss.

What Does a Tooth Abscess Feel Like?

Individuals can present with various tooth abscess symptoms. It is important to pay attention to these signs and symptoms and seek immediate medical attention if you are experiencing any of the following:

  • Throbbing, Constant Tooth Pain - It is common to feel a throbbing pain that lingers in the area of the affected tooth. The pain can gradually worsen and spread to other areas of you head and neck.
  • Discomfort when Chewing - An abscessed tooth can be painful and make it hard for you to chew. You may notice loss of appetite due to oral pain.
  • Fever - As infection spreads, you may develop a fever. You may feel other flu-like symptoms and in general feel unwell.
  • Face, Cheek & Neck Swelling - The appearance of face, cheek, and neck swelling can be a concerning symptom and should be addressed immediately. Swelling in these areas can make it hard for you to breathe and can become life-threatening.
  • Jaw Lymph Nodes Swollen - A tooth abscess can trigger an inflammatory response that leads to jaw lymph node swelling. You may notice small lumps near your jawline and neck.
  • Bad Breath - Persistent bad breath is commonly caused by a bacterial infection. Pus within the abscess contains odor-producing bacteria that causes bad breath.
  • Bitter Mouth Taste - An abscess is filled with pus that contains lots of bacteria. As the pus drains it can leave a bitter taste within your mouth.
  • Loose Tooth - A dental abscess can destroy the jawbone and cause tooth mobility. If left untreated, the abscess can result in tooth loss.
  • Breathing /Swallowing Issues - The bacterial infection from the tooth can spread to your throat and neck region. Swollen tissues can block your airway, which is a life-threatening emergency.
  • Puffy Gums - A tooth abscess creates an inflammatory response within the body that leads to oral swelling. This can make your gums appear puffy, red, and cause them to pull away from the teeth.
  • General Discomfort in Mouth - A dental abscess can cause general discomfort in the mouth. It may be hard to speak, eat, and perform normal daily functions due to the pain.
  • Tooth, Gum Sensitivity - An abscess can cause tooth and gum sensitivity. It will often hurt to chew and you may be sensitive to hot, cold, or sweet foods and beverages.
  • Gum Bump like a Pimple - A gum bump that resembles a pimple is a tell-tale sign of an abscess tooth. The bump is filled with bacterial pus and causes swelling of the gum tissues.

What Causes Tooth Abscess?

Wondering what causes an abscess tooth? There are several causes worth noting, all of which can be prevented with good oral and lifestyle habits.

  • Tooth Decay - Tooth decay, also known as cavities, is primarily caused by oral bacteria that destroy your teeth and gums. The bacteria produce harmful acids and can lead to infections including a tooth abscess.
  • Poor Oral Hygiene - Poor oral hygiene is a common cause of many oral issues, including dental abscesses. It is necessary to regularly brush, floss, and visit your dentist to maintain oral health.
  • Damaged Teeth - Teeth that are broken, fractured, or injured can allow bacteria to invade the tooth. If not treated, the bacteria can spread into the layers of the tooth and cause a dental abscess.
  • Gum Disease - Gum disease is an oral infection and inflammatory disease caused by bacteria. As gum disease progresses, the bacteria continue to accumulate and can create an abscess.
  • Eating Sugary Foods - Sugary foods promote bacterial growth in the oral cavity. Frequent consumption of sugary foods can increase your risk of developing tooth decay, dental abscesses, gum disease, and many other oral issues.
  • Smoking - Smoking is a negative habit that significantly impacts health overall. Individuals who smoke are found to be approximately twice as likely to get tooth abscesses than non-smokers.
  • Dry mouth - Without adequate saliva, bacteria tend to thrive and wreak havoc. Dry mouth is associated with many oral diseases, including tooth decay and tooth abscesses.

What is the Treatment for an Abscessed Tooth?

Tooth abscess treatment requires the help of dental professionals. In most cases, the abscess must be drained. In addition, there are other treatments that your dentist may recommend to eliminate the tooth abscess.

Root Canal Treatment

Root canal treatment removes bacteria from within the tooth’s pulp eliminating the infection. This is a great option to help save your tooth. Once the infection is removed, the tooth’s root is filled with a protective material that helps prevent reinfection. A dental crown is also typically placed over the tooth after a root canal to help protect the tooth from bacteria.

Abscess Drainage

Abscesses contain a pocket of pus filled with bacteria. Your dentist will make a small cut in the abscess to drain the pus and resolve the infection. Drainage of the abscess often helps relieve oral pain that was caused by the infection.

Tooth Extraction

In some cases, a tooth extraction dental procedure may be necessary to eliminate the infection. This may be recommended for teeth that are damaged beyond repair. Your dentist will inform you of the best options to help replace your tooth to restore the appearance and function of your smile.


Your dentist may prescribe antibiotics for tooth abscess to help fight off the harmful bacteria along with other dental procedures such as those mentioned above. Antibiotics alone, however, will not cure the dental abscess.

The Risks Associated with Extracting an Abscessed Tooth

Extracting an abscessed tooth can come with some associated risks. It is important to consider options to replace an extracted tooth to help minimize the risks mentioned below.

It may be determined by your dental professional that your tooth needs to be extracted to resolve the tooth abscess. There can be dangers of pulling an abscessed tooth, particularly if you do not replace the missing tooth as soon as possible after the extraction. A common risk is jawbone loss around the site where the tooth was extracted. In addition, the neighboring teeth can drift into the position of the missing tooth and cause the bite to become misaligned.

Complications of Untreated Abscessed Tooth

As with most untreated diseases, numerous health complications can arise if treatment is not initiated. In the case of an abscessed tooth, a lack of treatment can be life-threatening. Listed below are several possible complications of an untreated abscessed tooth.

  • Soft Tissue Infection - An untreated tooth abscess can lead to the spread of infection from your oral cavity to other areas of the body, such as the soft tissue. This can lead to swelling of the soft tissues of your face and neck.
  • Jaw Bone Infection - An untreated abscessed tooth can also impact your jaw bones. The infection can lead to bone and tooth loss.
  • Brain Abscess - In extreme cases, infection caused by an untreated tooth abscess can spread to the brain and you could develop bacterial meningitis. This is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention.
  • Blood Infection - If a dental abscess is not treated, the bacteria can enter the bloodstream. This can cause sepsis, which is a life-threatening response to infection.
  • Loss of the Tooth - Normally, the jawbone helps house teeth and keep them stable within the mouth. The jawbone may deteriorate as a result of an untreated tooth abscess which can lead to tooth loss.
  • Pneumonia - An abscessed tooth can lead to an infection within the lungs. As a result, the displaced oral bacteria may cause pneumonia.

How to Lower Tooth Abscess Risk?

One of the greatest ways to avoid a tooth abscess is to practice preventative methods to help lower your risk of developing one. There are many simple tasks you can perform to keep your mouth healthy.

  • Brush with Fluoride Toothpaste Twice Daily - Brushing your teeth twice daily is essential to remove dental bacterial plaque from your teeth and gums. Without proper toothbrushing habits, bacteria can accumulate and contribute to tooth decay, gum disease, tooth abscesses, and many other health problems. It is recommended to use a toothpaste that contains fluoride, which offers cavity-fighting and tooth remineralization benefits.
  • Change Toothbrush Every 3-4 Months - The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends switching out your toothbrush every 3-4 months. You may even need to change your toothbrush even earlier, particularly if you are sick or if the bristles appear frayed. Refreshing your toothbrush with a new one is essential, as bacteria can buildup and cause harm to your teeth if not replaced in a timely manner.
  • Cut down on sugary and starchy food - Do your best to limit your consumption of sugary and starchy foods. These ingredients are loved by bacteria, allowing them to thrive in your oral cavity. The bacteria can use sugars and starches to produce acids that make your mouth more susceptible to infection.
  • Rinse with Fluoride or Antiseptic Mouthwash - A fluoride or antiseptic mouthwash can help rinse away harmful bacteria that cause dental infections like a tooth abscess. Fluoride fights off bad bacteria and makes you less susceptible to tooth decay. Look for a mouthwash with these qualities and the ADA Seal of Acceptance.
  • Get Regular Dental Checkups and Teeth Cleanings - Regular dental checkups and teeth cleanings are a form of preventive dentistry that helps keep your smile healthy. Our team at Gentle Dental looks forward to seeing you and treating all your dental needs. Be sure you are visiting your dentist at least every 6 months for a teeth cleaning, or at more frequent intervals if determined by your dentist.


An abscessed tooth can cause more health issues than just throbbing pain. Leaving a dental abscess untreated can result in life-threatening complications, as oral bacteria can spread to other areas of the body. With immediate treatment by a medical or dental professional, an abscessed tooth can go away relatively quickly before progressing through the harmful tooth abscess stages. If you’re experiencing signs or symptoms of a dental abscess, like a gum pimple, persistent tooth pain, fever, oral or facial swelling, loose teeth, bad breath, bad taste in the mouth, puffy gums, or tooth sensitivity, seek medical assistance immediately for treatment.