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Cause and Symptoms of Dental Abscess

A dental abscess is an infection of the mouth, face, jaw, or throat that begins as a tooth infection or cavity. These infections are common in people with poor dental health and result from lack of proper and timely dental care.

  • Bacteria from a cavity can extend into the gums, the cheek, the throat, beneath the tongue, or even into the jaw or facial bones. A dental abscess can become very painful when tissues become inflamed.

  • Pus collects at the site of the infection and will become progressively more painful until it either ruptures and drains on its own or is drained surgically.

  • Sometimes the infection can progress to the point where swelling threatens to block the airway, causing difficulty breathing. Dental abscesses can also make you generally ill, with nausea, vomiting, fevers, chills, and sweats.

Cause of a Dental Abscess

The cause of these dental abscesses is direct growth of the bacteria from an existing cavity into the soft tissues and bones of the face and neck. An infected tooth that has not received appropriate dental care can cause a dental abscess to form. Poor oral hygiene (such as not brushing and flossing properly or often enough), smoking, alcohol, poor diet, and certain medical conditions and medications can increase risk of cavities to form in your teeth. The infection then may spread to the gums and adjacent areas and become a painful dental abscess.

Symptoms of a Dental Abscess

Symptoms of a dental abscess typically include:

  • Pain

  • Swelling

  • Redness of the mouth and face

Symptoms of advanced infection may include:

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Fever

  • Chills

  • Diarrhea

Other signs of an abscess might include, but are not limited to:

  • Cavities

  • Gum inflammation

  • Oral swelling

  • Tenderness with touch

  • Pus drainage

  • Difficulty fully opening your mouth or swallowing

When to Seek Medical Care for a Dental Abscess

If you think you have an abscess, call your dentist. If you cannot reach a dentist, go to a hospital's emergency department for evaluation, especially if you feel sick.

  • If an infection becomes so painful that it cannot be managed by nonprescription medicines, see your doctor or dentist for drainage.

  • If you develop fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea as a result of a dental abscess, see your doctor.

  • If you have intolerable pain, difficulty breathing or swallowing, seek immediate medical care in the emergency room.


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