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Home > Services > Dentistry > Dental Conditions > Tooth Abscess

Tooth Abscess

A tooth abscess is a sac of infected material (pus) in a tooth or the gums. It begins when bacteria invades and infects a tooth, which results in pus build-up. An abscess forms when the pus is unable to drain.

Conditions that allow bacteria to invade a tooth include:

  • Severe tooth decay from poor dental hygiene
  • Break or crack in a tooth that lets bacteria invade 
  • Failed root canal treatment
  • Build up of tartar or calculus beneath the gum line


Symptoms of a tooth abscess include:

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

If left untreated, complications of tooth abscess include:

  • Loss of tooth and surrounding tissues or bone
  • Spread of infection to surrounding tissue or bone

Diagnosis & Treatment

Your dentist will ask about your symptoms and medical history and perform an exam of your teeth and gums. Your dentist may take X-rays of your tooth and surrounding bone or take a sample of the abscess fluid. 

Removal of Abscess Via Root Canal

If an abscess results from tooth decay or a break or crack in the tooth, your dentist will remove the pus and dead tissue from the center of your tooth. Your dentist will clean the interior of the tooth and the root canals and fill them with a permanent filling. A crown protects the tooth.

If an abscess results from infection between the tooth and gum, your dentist drains the abscess and cleans and smooths the root surface of tooth. In some cases, you may need surgery to reshape the gum and prevent a repeat infection.

Tooth Extraction 

You may need to have your tooth removed if:

  • Tooth decay and/or tooth infection is too extensive for filling or root canal treatment
  • The break or crack in the tooth is too severe to be repaired
  • The infection or loss of tissue/bone between the tooth and gum is severe
Once extracted, your doctor will replace the tooth with either a partial bridge, dentures or a tooth implant.


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Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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