What is a dental abscess?

A dental abscess is an infection of the head or neck that begins as a tooth infection. Dental abscesses are often painful and filled with pus. The infection can originate as a result of poor dental hygiene, injury to the mouth, or medical conditions that affect the immune system.

Dental Problems Spotlight

A dental abscess begins when bacteria invade a tooth through an area of decay in the tooth (known as dental caries) or through the gums. The bacteria can cause an infection in and around the tooth, and this infection may then spread to other parts of the mouth and, more rarely, into the face or neck.

A dental abscess can be a serious condition because the infection, particularly when left untreated, may spread and cause serious complications. Spread of the infection by local extension or through the bloodstream can lead to serious infections of the jawbone, brain, heart valves, or lungs. Therefore, a dental abscess should be immediately treated by a physician or dentist. Dental abscesses are typically treated by opening the infection, cleaning the area thoroughly to remove any bacteria, and administering antibiotics.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms such as difficulty breathing due to swelling in the mouth, vomiting, fever, nausea, or headache associated with a dental abscess.

Even if your dental abscess does not cause such serious symptoms, it should still be evaluated by a dentist or physician. Seek prompt medical care if you have a pus-filled lesion inside the mouth, or pain or tenderness in the mouth, throat or face associated with a toothache.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of a dental abscess?

Symptoms of a dental abscess include pain and swelling in the mouth, face or neck. A closed or draining lesion inside the mouth or gums that is filled with pus is indicative of a dental abscess and may signal a larger area of infection deeper within the tissue. A dental abscess can cause serious symptoms, including fever, chills, nausea and vomiting. Rarely, a dental abscess can cause severe swelling in and around the mouth that may affect breathing or swallowing.... Read more about dental abscesssymptoms

CAUSES

What causes a dental abscess?

A dental abscess is caused by bacteria that infect tissue in and around teeth. Poor dental hygiene, which results in caries (cavities) or periodontal disease (gum disease), is the most common cause of a dental abscess. The infection can progress into deeper tissues of the mouth, neck and face, especially if untreated.... Read more about dental abscesscauses

TREATMENTS

How is a dental abscess treated?

A dental abscess can usually be diagnosed by a simple examination by your dentist or physician. An X-ray may be helpful in identifying the extent and location of the infection, especially in more serious cases.... Read more about dental abscesstreatments

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Mouth, Teeth and Oral Health