Signs, symptoms, causes and risk factors for abscess tooth

abscess tooth

A tooth abscess is a pocket of pus which is caused by a bacterial infection. This is a painful infection at the root of your tooth or between your tooth and gum. This condition is most commonly caused by severe tooth decay. Also there are other causes for tooth abscess such as gum disease, gingivitis or trauma to the tooth such as when your tooth is chipped or broken. These problems can cause openings in the tooth enamel which allows the bacteria to infect the center of your tooth. This infection can also spread from the root of your tooth to the bones supporting your tooth. The abscess can occur at different regions of your tooth and it can be caused by different reasons. A periapical abscess occurs at the tip of the root whereas a periodontal abscess occurs in the gums next to a tooth root. When you have untreated dental cavity, an injury or prior dental work, then in these situations is happening the periapical tooth abscess. Dentists are trying to treat this condition by draining it and getting rid of this infection. In some cases dentists are able to save your tooth with a root canal treatment but also there are other cases in which tooth may need to be pulled [1]. If you leave this condition untreated, then this can lead to serious and even life – threatening complications. You should brush your teeth at least two times per day and you should use a fluoride toothpaste because in this way you will have prevention against abscess tooth.

Here are few signs and symptoms of abscess tooth

  • Sudden rush of foul – smelling and foul – tasting, salty fluid in your mouth and pain relief if the abscess ruptures
  • Tender, swollen lymph nodes under your jaw or in your neck
  • Swelling in your face or cheek
  • Fever
  • Sensitivity to the pressure of chewing or biting
  • Sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures
  • Severe, persistent, throbbing toothache that can radiate to the jawbone, neck or ear
  • Redness and swelling of the gums
  • Pain with chewing
  • An open, draining sore on the side of the gum

Your dentist will probe your teeth with a dental instrument and if you have abscess tooth, then you will feel pain when your tooth is tapped by your dentist’s probe. If you have any of the mentioned signs and symptoms of a tooth abscess, then you should visit your dentist as soon as possible. If you have a fever and swelling in your face and you cannot reach your dentist, then you should ask for emergency help. [2]

Causes: A periapical tooth abscess occurs when bacteria invade the dental pulp which is the innermost part of your tooth that has connective tissue, nerves and blood vessels. Bacteria enter through a chip or dental cavity or crack in the tooth and spread all the way down to the root of your tooth. The bacterial infection can cause inflammation and swelling at the tip of the root. [2]

Abscess tooth

Risk factors of tooth abscess

Here are the factors which can increase your risk of having tooth abscess:

  • A diet high in sugar: When you eat food (such as sweets) and drink drinks that are rich in sugar (such as soda), then this can contribute to dental cavities and turn into a tooth abscess. [3]
  • Poor dental hygiene: When you do not take proper care of your gums and teeth (such as when you not brush your teeth two times per day and when you are not flossing your teeth), then this can increase your risk of having tooth abscess, gum disease, tooth decay and many other dental and mouth complications. [4]

Complications: It is very important to know that tooth abscess will not go away if you left it unthreatened. If the abscess ruptures, then the pain in many cases can decrease significantly but you still need to take proper dental treatment. If the abscess does not drain, then the infection can spread to your jaw and to other areas of your neck and head. Also there are some cases when people can develop sepsis [5]. This is a life – threatening infection which spreads throughout your body. Also if you have a weakened immune system and if you leave this condition untreated, then the risk of spreading infection can increase even more.


[1] Zehnder M, Belibasakis GN. On the dynamics of root canal infections—what we understand and what we don’t. Virulence. 2015;6(3):216–22.

[2] Shweta, Prakash SK. Dental abscess: A microbiological review. Dental Research Journal. 2013;10(5):585–91.

[3] Moynihan P. Sugars and dental caries: Evidence for setting a recommended threshold for intake. Advances in Nutrition. 2016;7(1):149–56.

[4] Lockhart PB, Brennan MT, Thornhill M, et al. Poor oral hygiene as a risk factor for infective endocarditis–related bacteremia. Journal of the American Dental Association. 2009;140(10):1238–44.

[5] Haslam S. Reducing the risk of sepsis. BDJ Team. 2018.


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