Male with tooth pain


Tooth Abscess: Stages, Causes & Treatment

Written By : Generations of Smiles Writers

Reviewed By : Charles Rodgers, DDS

Published: Oct 25, 2021

In This Article

Many oral problems can lead to tooth pain. Cavities, gum disease, and an injury are the three issues people most commonly associate with oral pain. But another issue that has the potential to cause serious pain, is a tooth abscess. A dental abscess may not be your first thought when you start having tooth pain, but it is something that dentists see all too often.

It is important to understand the basics of what a tooth abscess is, how it happens, symptoms to look out for, and available treatment options so you can quickly seek out the help you need when you experience an abscess in your mouth.

What Is a Tooth Abscess?

The first step in getting the help you need for a dental abscess is to learn what constitutes a tooth abscess. What is an abscessed tooth?
One way that a tooth abscess is often described is as a tooth infection. Technically, however, the infected area is somewhere around the tooth – in the gums, supporting structures, or at the tip of the root. You may also hear a dental abscess described as a gum abscess, periodontal abscess, periapical abscess, gingival abscess, or gum infection. A tooth abscess happens when a pocket of pus develops somewhere around your tooth. A tooth abscess often comes with pain but not always. The best way to ensure that you do not have an abscess is to go to your preventative dental appointments.

What Causes an Abscessed Tooth?

Understanding what causes an abscessed tooth will help you in your prevention efforts. The pocket filled with pus that characterizes a dental abscess is caused by a bacterial infection.
Everyone has bacteria in their mouths. Brushing and flossing properly and getting your teeth cleaned professionally twice per year can help remove bacteria and prevent the buildup of plaque and tartar. When you do not brush and floss properly and skip out on routine cleanings, plaque will build up and harden into tartar.
Tartar can irritate your gums and eventually cause a bacterial gum infection. If left untreated, the bacterial infection can cause an abscess to develop. Other potential causes for a dental abscess include untreated cavities and broken, chipped, or otherwise injured teeth. Damage to your teeth leaves them vulnerable to the bacteria in your mouth.   

Tooth Abscess Types

There are three primary types of tooth abscesses: periodontal abscess, periapical abscess, and gingival abscess.

Gingival Abscess

A gingival abscess is an abscess that occurs in the gums and is the result of untreated gum disease.

Each type of tooth abscess can be painful and lead to other issues such as tooth loss. Treatment options for each type of abscess include improving your oral hygiene routine, root canal, extracting the tooth, and drainage.

Periodontal Abscess

A periodontal abscess is an infection that is located in the bone and tissues around the tooth. Untreated gum infection can lead to a periodontal abscess.

Periapical Abscess

A periapical abscess occurs at the tip of the root. A periapical abscess is often caused when a cavity or injury to the tooth goes untreated, and the infection is allowed to spread through the pulp of the tooth to the root.

Tooth Abscess Symptoms

Tooth abscess symptoms will vary depending on the type of abscess and the severity of the infection. Common tooth abscess symptoms include severe pain, localized pain that can flare up when you touch the area, fever, and swelling around your tooth. Other potential tooth infection symptoms include bad breath, bitter taste in your mouth, pain while chewing, increased teeth sensitivity, and generally feeling ill.

Tooth abscess stages generally start with dull or minimal pain and progress to worsening pain the longer the issue goes untreated. As the abscess spreads, your pain and discomfort will continue to get worse until you seek out tooth abscess treatment. Like tooth decay, the bacterial infection that causes a dental abscess will continue to spread and cause damage until you take steps to eliminate the infection and treat the abscess.

How Is an Abscessed Tooth Treated?

The right dental abscess treatment for you will depend on the details of your situation. The type of abscess – gingival abscess, periapical abscess, periodontal abscess – will help determine how to cure an abscessed tooth. It is important to understand that a tooth abscess will not go away on its own. You developed the abscess because of some type of problem.
If you want to know how to cure a tooth infection caused by an underlying issue, you need to be sure and address that issue. If your dental abscess is periapical and caused by tooth decay, you need to treat both the abscess and decay. If the abscess was caused by gum disease, you need to address the issues that led to the gum disease in the first place.

Treatment for an abscessed tooth may include getting a root canal, draining the abscess, extracting the tooth, and prescribing antibiotics. The bacterial infection needs to be effectively eradicated to prevent the abscess from continuing and worsening. Antibiotics for tooth infection target the bacteria, while the other treatment options aim to eliminate the pus buildup around your tooth.

Tooth Abscess Prevention

The pain associated with having an abscessed tooth can be severe. The dental procedures required to treat a dental abscess can be invasive. There is no question that the best thing you can do is to avoid the pain and discomfort associated with an abscess is to prevent a dental abscess from occurring in the first place.
An abscess develops as a result of another issue. Tooth decay from poor oral hygiene can lead to a dental abscess. A tooth that has been damaged or injured due to trauma is more likely than a healthy tooth to develop an abscess. Gum disease that is allowed to spread and worsen can eventually lead to an abscess. Abscess prevention involves addressing the underlying issues that can lead to an abscess.

Improve Your Oral Hygiene Routine

Your daily oral hygiene routine will have a big impact on the health of your gums and teeth. Regular brushing and flossing can help prevent the buildup of bacteria that can lead to an abscess. If you follow the recommendation of brushing twice per day and flossing at least once, you are less likely to develop gum disease and dental abscesses.

Make Routine Teeth Cleaning Appointments a Priority

Routine Teeth Cleaning appointments are about much more than keeping your teeth looking good. During these appointments, the hygienist removes plaque and tartar buildup on your teeth. This helps prevent gum disease, decay, and, ultimately, dental abscesses. Your dentist will also look for signs of decay and damage during your routine dental appointments. These appointments are essential in the process of protecting your oral health from threats like decay and infection.

Get Help Right Away for a Dental Injury

A chipped, cracked, or otherwise injured tooth can put you at an increased risk of developing a dental abscess. Seek help from your dentist right away if you have some type of trauma to your tooth. A tooth abscess can feel like an emergency once the pain starts to set in. You can take steps to prevent a pain-related emergency from occurring by taking proactive action any time one of your teeth gets damaged – even if the damage itself does not cause pain.

Find a Dentist Near You to Treat an Abscessed Tooth

If you have an abscessed tooth – or suspect that you have one – it will not go away on its own. An abscessed tooth can only be treated and cured with the help of a dentist. You need to find a dentist who has experience with the various types of dental abscesses. The good news is that highly qualified dentists know how to diagnose and treat dental abscesses.

If you do not currently have a dentist in your area and are asking yourself how to find a dentist near me, start your search with the help of Smile Generation. Smile Generation offers an online portal that can connect patients with a network of highly qualified dentists and specialists. You can search for dentists in your area and narrow the options down based on the services that you need. You can find trusted local dentists and choose the one that is the best fit for you. At Smile Generation, you can also explore resources to help you pay for your current and future dental needs. Finding the right dentist does not have to be a guessing game – you can learn about your options before making that first appointment. Start your search for a dentist based on your location and then further narrow your options based on the services that you need.

If you are not ready to choose a dentist but want to continue learning about oral care and treatment options, check out the Smile Generation blog. The blog provides education and other resources to help you get the information you need to make educated decisions about your oral health.


Find your trusted, local dentist today!



Smile Generation blog articles are reviewed by a licensed dental professional before publishing. However, we present this information for educational purposes only with the intent to promote readers’ understanding of oral health and oral healthcare treatment options and technology. We do not intend for our blog content to substitute for professional dental care and clinical advice, diagnosis, or treatment planning provided by a licensed dental professional. Smile Generation always recommends seeking the advice of a dentist, physician, or other licensed healthcare professional for a dental or medical condition or treatment. 

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