Symptoms and causes


Signs and symptoms of a tooth abscess include:

  • Severe, persistent, throbbing toothache that can radiate to the jawbone, neck or ear
  • Sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures
  • Sensitivity to the pressure of chewing or biting
  • Fever
  • Swelling in your face or cheek
  • Tender, swollen lymph nodes under your jaw or in your neck
  • Sudden rush of foul-smelling and foul-tasting, salty fluid in your mouth and pain relief if the abscess ruptures

When to see a doctor

See your dentist promptly if you have any signs or symptoms of a tooth abscess.

If you have a fever and swelling in your face and you can't reach your dentist, go to an emergency room. Also go to the emergency room if you have trouble breathing or swallowing. These symptoms may indicate that the infection has spread deeper into your jaw and surrounding tissue or even to other areas of your body.


A periapical tooth abscess occurs when bacteria invade the dental pulp — the innermost part of the tooth that contains blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue.

Bacteria enter through either a dental cavity or a chip or crack in the tooth and spread all the way down to the root. The bacterial infection can cause swelling and inflammation at the tip of the root.

Risk factors

These factors may increase your risk of a tooth abscess:

  • Poor dental hygiene. Not taking proper care of your teeth and gums — such as not brushing your teeth twice a day and not flossing — can increase your risk of tooth decay, gum disease, tooth abscess, and other dental and mouth complications.
  • A diet high in sugar. Frequently eating and drinking foods rich in sugar, such as sweets and sodas, can contribute to dental cavities and turn into a tooth abscess.


A tooth abscess won't go away without treatment. If the abscess ruptures, the pain may decrease significantly — but you still need dental treatment. If the abscess doesn't drain, the infection may spread to your jaw and to other areas of your head and neck. You might even develop sepsis — a life-threatening infection that spreads throughout your body.

If you have a weakened immune system and you leave a tooth abscess untreated, your risk of a spreading infection increases even more.

Aug. 16, 2017
  1. AskMayoExpert. Dental abscess. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2015.
  2. Abscess (toothache). MouthHealthy. Accessed Jan. 4, 2016.
  3. Abscessed teeth. American Association of Endodontists. Accessed Jan 4, 2016.
  4. Periapical abscess. Merck Manual Consumer Version. Accessed Jan. 4, 2016.
  5. Toothache and infection. Merck Manual Professional Version. Accessed Jan. 4, 2016.
  6. Children's oral health: Abscess. American Academy of Pediatrics. Accessed Jan 4, 2016.
  7. Robertson DP, et al. Management of severe acute dental infections. BMJ. 2015;350:h1300.
  8. Laudenbach JM, et al. Common dental and periodontal diseases. Medical Clinics of North America. 2014;98:1239.
  9. Root canals. MouthHealthy. Accessed Jan. 4, 2016.
  10. The tooth decay process: How to reverse it and avoid a cavity. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Accessed Jan. 4, 2016.
  11. Toothbrush care: Cleaning, storing and replacement. American Dental Association. Accessed Jan. 4, 2016.
  12. Salinas TJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Feb. 3, 2016.