Some dental issues require urgent attention from an emergency dentist. Fortunately, most dentists leave appointments aside in their day for anyone with a dental emergency, so it shouldn’t be hard to get treatment when you need it. In most cases, a dental abscess is considered a dental emergency. Continue reading so you know how to recognise tooth abscess symptoms and when you should contact an emergency dentist. 


What is a dental abscess?

A dental abscess is a pocket of pus caused by a bacterial infection that forms in various parts of a tooth and gums for different reasons. Abscesses don’t just affect the involved tooth – they also affect the surrounding bone and sometimes neighbouring teeth.



Abscessed teeth are caused by three types of tooth infection:

  • Gingival – This infection forms in the gums and rarely affects the tooth or surrounding structures.
  • Periapical – This abscess is an infection that occurs at a tooth’s root. It happens when bacteria access the inside of a tooth via a crack or cavity and travel to the central pulp containing nerves and blood vessels. When bacteria occupy the pulp, they spread to the tip of the tooth’s root causing the infection to spread to the bone, ultimately resulting in an abscess.   
  • Periodontal – This type of abscess is usually more common in adults with gum disease or periodontitis. The infection starts in the tissues and bone supporting the tooth. 

An abscess will not go away and is typically considered a dental emergency, so it’s helpful if you know the warning signs of a dental abscess


Tooth abscess symptoms

Several signs may indicate the presence of a dental abscess. These include the following:

  • Pain in the gums or intense toothache
  • Redness inside the mouth or outside the mouth on the face or jaw
  • An unpleasant taste in the mouth 
  • Sensitivity to hot or cold food and drink in the affected area
  • A swollen face or jaw
  • Difficulty opening your mouth and chewing food
  • A high temperature


When to seek immediate medical assistance

You should contact an emergency dentist if you have tooth abscess symptoms or signs. However, if a tooth abscess is causing severe toothache or facial swelling, you should get immediate medical attention. If you’re having difficulty swallowing and breathing, it’s best to visit the dental emergency department at your nearest hospital. These symptoms could indicate that the infection has reached your jaw, surrounding tissues or other body areas. A tooth infection can, in rare cases, lead to sepsis, a life-threatening condition. Almost 5,000 of an estimated 18,000 Australians treated in intensive care each year die from sepsis. 


How is a dental abscess diagnosed?

  • An x-ray of an aching tooth helps to identify an abscess. The dentist also uses X-rays to see if the infection has spread and caused abscesses elsewhere.
  • Should the infection have spread to other areas, the dentist will recommend a CT scan to determine the severity of the condition.
  • The dentist may tap the teeth. A tooth with an abscess at its root is usually sensitive to pressure or touch.

So now you know what tooth abscess symptoms to watch out for and when to seek emergency dental care, you may wonder what treatment you will receive. 


Treatment options

Treatment for a dental abscess depends on its severity. When caught in its early stages, the dentist may only need to drain the abscess and treat the infection with antibiotics. The dentist makes a small incision in the abscess to allow the pus to drain out and then cleans the area with salt water or a saline solution. 

In some cases, the emergency dentist may recommend a root canal. Although root canals have a bad reputation for causing pain, they actually eliminate pain and save a tooth from extraction. The procedure involves the dentist removing the diseased pulp and draining the abscess. The pulp chamber and the root canals are then filled and sealed to prevent reinfection. 

A dental crown may be placed over the tooth several weeks later to provide additional strength, especially if it’s a back tooth. The restored tooth can last a long time if cared for properly. Extraction will be recommended when the dentist cannot save the abscessed tooth. In this case, the abscess is first drained to eliminate the infection. 


The takeaway

Getting treatment early is essential for an abscessed tooth. Doing so prevents the infection from spreading and becoming a life-threatening condition. Visiting an emergency dentist is recommended if you spot any tooth abscess symptoms requiring immediate attention. Your dentist will determine the most appropriate treatment based on your condition. 


Book an appointment

Remember, dentists want to keep you and your teeth healthy. Be sure to visit your dentist regularly for check-ups. Prevention is key! These appointments help dentists to spot any issues early and treat them before they become more complex and costly. Schedule a check-up with Southport Park Family Dental by calling us on (07) 5655 7688 and keep your dental health on track.






Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care – National Sepsis Program,as%20a%20result%20of%20sepsis.



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