Diagnosis

In addition to examining your tooth and the area around it, your dentist may:

  • Tap on your teeth. A tooth that has an abscess at its root is generally sensitive to touch or pressure.
  • Recommend an X-ray. An X-ray of the aching tooth can help identify an abscess. Your dentist may also use X-rays to determine whether the infection has spread, causing abscesses in other areas.
  • Recommend a CT scan. If the infection has spread to other areas within your neck, a CT scan may be used to see how severe the infection is.

More Information

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to get rid of the infection. To do this, your dentist may:

  • Open up (incise) and drain the abscess. The dentist makes a small cut into the abscess, allowing the pus to drain out. The dentist then washes the area with salt water (saline). Occasionally, a small rubber drain is placed to keep the area open for drainage while the swelling goes down.
  • Do a root canal. This can help get rid of the infection and save your tooth. To do this, your dentist drills down into your tooth, removes the diseased central tissue (pulp) and drains the abscess. The dentist then fills and seals the tooth's pulp chamber and root canals. The tooth may be capped with a crown to make it stronger, especially if this is a back tooth. If you care for your restored tooth properly, it can last a lifetime.
  • Pull the affected tooth. If the affected tooth can't be saved, your dentist will pull (extract) the tooth and drain the abscess to get rid of the infection.
  • Prescribe antibiotics. If the infection is limited to the abscessed area, you may not need antibiotics. But if the infection has spread to nearby teeth, your jaw or other areas, your dentist will likely prescribe antibiotics to stop it from spreading further. Your dentist may also recommend antibiotics if you have a weakened immune system.

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Lifestyle and home remedies

While the area is healing, your dentist may recommend these steps to help ease discomfort:

  • Rinse your mouth with warm salt water.
  • Take nonprescription pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), as needed.

Preparing for your appointment

You're likely to start by seeing your dentist.

What you can do

Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment:

  • Make a list of any symptoms you're experiencing, including any that may seem unrelated to your tooth or mouth pain.
  • Make a list of all medications, vitamins, herbs or other supplements that you're taking, and the dosages.
  • Prepare questions to ask your dentist.

Questions to ask your dentist may include:

  • What's likely causing my symptoms or condition?
  • What kinds of tests do I need?
  • What's the best course of action?
  • What are the alternatives to the primary treatment that you're suggesting?
  • Are there any restrictions that I need to follow?
  • Should I see a specialist?
  • Is there a generic version of the medicine you're prescribing?
  • Are there any printed materials that I can have? What websites do you recommend?

Don't hesitate to ask additional questions during your appointment.

What to expect from your doctor

Your dentist is likely to ask you a number of questions, such as:

  • When did you first begin experiencing symptoms?
  • Have you had any recent trauma to your teeth or any recent dental work?
  • Have your symptoms been continuous or occasional?
  • How severe are your symptoms?
  • What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms?
  • What, if anything, seems to worsen your symptoms?

Your dentist will ask additional questions based on your responses, symptoms and needs. Preparing and anticipating questions will help you make the most of your time.

June 29, 2022
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  2. Oral health tips. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/basics/adult-oral-health/tips.html. Accessed April 20, 2022.
  3. Home oral care. American Dental Association. https://www.ada.org/resources/research/science-and-research-institute/oral-health-topics/home-care. Accessed April 20, 2022.
  4. Abscessed teeth. American Association of Endodontists. https://www.aae.org/patients/dental-symptoms/abscessed-teeth/. Accessed April 20, 2022.
  5. Root canal treatment. American Association of Endodontists. https://www.aae.org/patients/root-canal-treatment/. Accessed April 20, 2022.
  6. Toothbrushes. American Dental Association. https://www.ada.org/resources/research/science-and-research-institute/oral-health-topics/toothbrushes. Accessed April 20, 2022.
  7. Toothache and infection. Merck Manual Professional Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/dental-disorders/symptoms-of-dental-and-oral-disorders/toothache-and-infection?query=tooth%20abscess. Accessed April 20, 2022.
  8. Tooth decay. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/health-info/tooth-decay. Accessed April 20, 2022.
  9. Buttaravoli PM, et al., eds. Dental pain, periapical abscess. In: Minor Emergencies. 4th ed. Elsevier; 2021. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed April 20, 2022.
  10. AAE position statement: Maxillary sinusitis of endodontic origin. American Association of Endodontists. https://www.aae.org/specialty/clinical-resources/guidelines-position-statements/. Accessed May 20, 2022.
  11. Zhou MX (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic. May 20, 2022.

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