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Tooth Abscess: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

“I have developed a blister on the gum. It leaks a clear fluid, along with swelling and severe pain…” “I […]

“I have developed a blister on the gum. It leaks a clear fluid, along with swelling and severe pain…”

I felt a strange popping feeling in the gum, like bubbles bursting. The fluid tasted a bit like coffee and made my tongue numb...”

“My tooth has gone grey…”

– Sonia from Aspley

Dr Darryl Marsh replies: 

Experiencing symptoms like the above. As well as pain, swelling, bleeding, or the presence of pus and fluid oozing from your tooth or gums is more than just discomfort. It's a red flag signaling potential underlying dental issues. One primary concern that these symptoms often indicate is a tooth abscess. A tooth abscess is not something to be taken lightly, and treatment by a dentist is essential. 

What is a tooth abscess?

A tooth abscess is a pocket of pus that's caused by a bacterial infection in the mouth. These abscesses can occur in different areas of the tooth for different reasons. There are two types of abscesses. Periapical - which occurs at the tip of the root. And periodontal - which occurs in the gums next to a tooth root.

The common cause of a tooth abscess is severe tooth decay. Decay allows bacteria to invade the tooth and then spread to the surrounding tissues. Other causes include gum disease or any injury to the tooth. Things such as a broken tooth, where the dental pulp is exposed to bacteria.

This condition often appears as severe toothache, sensitivity to temperature, or a bitter taste in the mouth. It may also be accompanied by fever or swelling in the affected area.

If not treated, the infection can spread beyond the jaw to the neck, head, or other body parts. In extreme cases, it can lead to potentially life-threatening complications. So, a tooth abscess is absolutely considered a dental emergency requiring immediate treatment.

Tooth abscess symptoms

While I have seen some strange and unusual symptoms over the years, here are a few of the more common symptoms of a tooth abscess.

Persistent and Severe Toothache:

The most common symptom of a tooth abscess is a relentless, throbbing toothache. This pain can extend to the jaw, neck, or ear, complicating the process of identifying its origin. The pain may intensify during chewing or when applying pressure to the tooth. It often becomes so severe that it disrupts sleep and daily activities.

Sensitivity to Temperature and Pressure:

An abscessed tooth can have extreme sensitivity to hot and cold food and beverages. It is often a sharp, sudden pain that makes eating or drinking a tormenting experience. You may also experience pain when chewing or biting.


The body's battle against the infection often leads to systemic symptoms, one of which is a fever. It's the body's natural response to combating infections. It is a clear indicator that things have taken a serious turn and medical intervention is needed.

Swelling in the Face or Cheek:

As the infection spreads, it may lead to noticeable swelling in the face, cheek, or the lymph nodes of the jaw or neck. This inflammatory response is a red flag. Often indicating that the infection is worsening. Potentially threatening more than just your dental health.

A Bitter Taste and Foul Breath:

If the abscess ruptures, it may release pus into your mouth, creating an unpleasant taste. This can result in notably foul breath. The release of pus can lead to a temporary reduction in pain. However, dental treatment is still urgently required to properly address the infection.

The best way to diagnose a tooth with an abscess is with a digital x-ray. We take this while you are in the chair with us, and we can then discuss your treatment options.

Tooth abscess treatment

I often have patients ask me, “Darryl, how can I get rid of a tooth abscess without seeing a dentist?”. Well, unfortunately you can’t. As much as I would love to give you a guide for how to drain a tooth abscess at home, it's not possible.

Treating a tooth abscess at the dentist is crucial to ease pain. But also to prevent serious complications. The most common treatment option is Root Canal Therapy. This procedure removes the infection while preserving the tooth.

If the damage is too extensive, tooth extraction may be necessary. In some cases, a dentist might make a small cut in the gum tissue to drain the abscess directly.

Alongside these procedures, antibiotics are often prescribed. This is to help fight the infection, reduce swelling, and prevent the bacteria from spreading.

It's essential to seek professional dental care immediately if you suspect you have an abscess. Timely intervention can save both your tooth and safeguard your overall health.

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