Tooth abscess: What are the symptoms?

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Tooth abscess: What are the symptoms?

Question

What are the symptoms of a tooth abscess? Will a tooth abscess go away on its own, or do I need to visit the dentist?

Gary
Wisconsin

Answer

A tooth abscess is a collection of pus that's caused by a bacterial infection in the root of a tooth or in the gum tissue surrounding the tooth. The primary symptom of a tooth abscess is a severe, persistent, throbbing toothache. Initially, the tooth may be sensitive to heat and the pressure of chewing or biting. Later, you may develop a fever, swelling in your face or cheek, and tender, swollen lymph nodes under your jaw or in your neck. If the abscess ruptures, you'll have a sudden rush of foul-smelling and foul-tasting fluid in your mouth.

A tooth abscess won't go away without treatment. If the abscess ruptures, the pain may decrease significantly — but dental treatment is still needed. If the abscess doesn't drain, the infection may spread to other areas of your head and neck. It may even become life-threatening.

To treat a tooth abscess, the dentist will likely drain the abscess and prescribe antibiotics to eliminate the infection. While the area is healing, the dentist may recommend rinsing your mouth with warm salt water and taking over-the-counter pain relievers as needed. In some cases, a root canal may be necessary. In other cases, the affected tooth must be pulled.

Last Updated: 2008-08-02
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