​Dental Abscess

A dental abscess refers to bacterial infection that result in collection of pus that can occur in the bones or gums around the infected tooth. An abscess can start off for a number of reasons, but commonly it starts off in an infected tooth that has a cavity in it and can then spread t​o other areas of your mouth, as well as to your face, jaw or throat. Thus a dental abscess can become very painful when the tissue becomes inflamed.

There are two types of dental abscesses; periapical abscess and periodontal abscess. Periapical abscess are the more common of the two and refer to when the abscess forms in the bone around your tooth. Periodontal abscess on the other hand form in the supporting gums around the tooth.

Dental abscesses are usually an indication of poor dental health and result due to a lack of good and timely dental care.
If left untreated for too long, abscesses can lead to further complications and even be life-threatening, as the infection and swelling could progress to where it threatens to block the airways, which could compromise breathing. Thus it is important to visit your dentist regularly (every six months) and as soon as you face such dental difficulty.

The common symptoms and indications of a tooth abscess include:

  • Intense, persistent and throbbing pain

  • Redness around your mouth and face

  • Swelling of your face and neck

  • Tenderness  

  • Fever

  • Pus drainage or rupture of the abscess​

You should aim to see your doctor or dentist as soon as you can to seek treatment for symptoms of a tooth abscess, such as pain that cannot be managed with over-the-counter medication, fever, and swelling in gums.
However, if the infection has progressed to a point where you are experiencing dangerous symptoms, such as having high fever, great swelling or trouble breathing due to blocked airways, you should visit the emergency room immediately. It is possible that the infection has spread to other parts of the body and it is essential to seek treatment quickly.   
Your time with your doctor may be limited, so make sure to prepare for your visit beforehand. ​Here ​(hyperlink) are some tips to help get you started.
When you visit the dentist with symptoms that indicate you have a tooth abscess, they will ask you about more details of your symptoms as well as about your general medical history. They will then conduct a thorough oral examination and physically inspect the area, which will probably include them tapping on the tooth that appears to have any visible and drainable abscess. The doctor may also request an X-ray, so that they may be able to identify any small or deep abscess, or any other problem. It will also help to see whether or not the infection has spread to other areas.
After these tests, your dentist will be able to make an accurate diagnosis and suggest treatment accordingly.

There are a few steps that you could take at home to help ease discomfort and promote healthy healing:

  • Rinse your mouth with warm salt water.

  • Take over-the-counter pain reliving medication

  • In the case the abscess has ruptured, cleanse the mouth and clear it of any drainage.

Professional treatment can include:

  • Antibiotics – If the infection has spread and is starting to affect nearby teeth and other areas, such as your jaw, then you may be prescribed antibiotics to prevent it from spreading more.  

  • An incision (small cut) – This involves a small cut in the abscess and draining of pus. This is most often necessary in order to cure the infection.

  • A root canal – This may be required in more progressive cases, where the doctor will drill into your tooth to remove the pulp (central tissue), in order to save your tooth.

  • Tooth extraction – In the instance where the infection has progressed extensively, it may no longer be possible to save your tooth. It will then be necessary for them to extract (pull out) this tooth in order to prevent further complications. ​

Your doctor and or nurse will give you specific instructions about the prescribed medication. Please ensure that you take or use the prescribed medicine as advised. It can be dangerous to your health if you self-prescribe. Please inform the doctor or nurse beforehand if you have experienced any adverse reactions to any medications in the past. If you experience any symptoms of drug poisoning, overdose or severe reaction please contact the Pharmacy Service at The Aga Khan University Hospital immediately. You can find the contact number of the Pharmacy Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.

The information provided on our website is for educational purposes and not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional provider.