A tooth abscess is one of the most common oral infections and occurs when bacteria gets trapped in a tooth. If not treated, a spot can become a dental emergency, leading to serious health problems—including sepsis. If you are in severe pain, you should always see an emergency dentist, but don’t delay if you think you have a dental abscess, as you don’t want the infection to spread. But what does a tooth abscess look like, and what are the signs that it requires treatment? Let’s find out. 


What is the cause of a tooth abscess?

Also known as a dental abscess, an infection is caused when bacteria enter the tooth through a chip or crack. The bacteria begin to multiply, and the infection can spread to the surrounding tissue, causing inflammation and swelling. Typically, this results from poor oral hygiene leading to gum disease or tooth decay. Other causes of a tooth abscess include trauma to the tooth, chewing on hard objects, and some cancer treatments, such as radiation therapy.

As the infection is unlikely to go away without treatment, you should seek early treatment to prevent it from becoming a dental emergency



Signs and symptoms of a tooth abscess

Symptoms of an abscessed tooth include:

  • severe toothache,
  • sensitivity to hot and cold,
  • pain and gum tenderness, 
  • swelling, 
  • fever,
  • foul-tasting discharge from the affected tooth.

Generally, symptoms of a dental abscess may start with sensitivity or a tingling sensation in the gum. As the infection worsens, you may get localised soreness and swelling, which, if untreated, may spread to other areas of the face, including the jaw, cheeks and eyes. You may develop a fever too. 

What does a tooth abscess look like without treatment? Delaying treatment can prolong your pain and discomfort unnecessarily. But, the spread of the infection can result in tooth loss or more serious medical complications that can have life-threatening implications. 

So, if you experience any of these symptoms, you must see a dentist immediately. Early diagnosis and treatment are vital in preventing the infection from becoming a dental emergency and preserving the health of your teeth and gums. If you think you may have a tooth abscess, don’t delay in seeking dental care as the infection from a dental abscess can soon spread to the jaw, brain and other parts of the body. 


Types of tooth abscess

An abscess is a localised collection of pus resulting from an infection. There are three types of dental abscesses


Gingival abscess

A gingival abscess is a gum infection that results in a pus-filled pocket. Gingival spots are often caused by plaque and tartar build-up around the gum line, although it can happen when there is an injury to the gum tissue, such as a cut or scrape. This kind of dental abscess can be excruciating and may cause the gum tissue to swell. 


Periodontal abscess 

This type of abscess starts in a tooth’s supporting bone tissue structures. In severe cases, it can cause difficulty with breathing. 


Periapical abscess

This tooth abscess occurs when the pulp, or soft tissue inside the tooth, becomes infected. The infection can spread to the bone around the tooth and may cause a pimple-like growth on the gums. A periapical abscess can cause severe pain and, if left untreated, can lead to tooth loss. 


What does a tooth abscess look like after treatment?

That depends on whether the infection has caused extensive damage to the tooth or surrounding supporting tissues. If caught early enough and treated effectively, you should have no ill effects and retain a fully functioning tooth. 


What is the treatment for a tooth abscess?

If your tooth abscess is very painful or you have swelling or fever, it is a dental emergency, and you should see an emergency dentist or visit an A& E Department. 

Treatment of a dental abscess may include: 


Draining the infection

The dentist will make a small cut in the gum to release the pus from the tooth abscess and allow it to drain away. 



You may be prescribed antibiotics to get rid of the infection. 


Root canal

A root canal procedure involves removing the infected material in the tooth’s centre, cleaning the area, disinfecting it, and sealing it with a filling. It is used to repair and save a tooth that is badly decayed or infected and may be required after treatment for a dental abscess. 

The treatment can only be carried out if you are infection-free—which is why antibiotics are prescribed for a dental abscess. 


What does a tooth abscess look like? The Takeaway

In summary, a tooth abscess is a pocket of pus that forms around a tooth with an infection. It isn’t necessarily a dental emergency, but it can become one if not treated promptly. If you have any signs of swelling elsewhere on the face or fever, get in touch with an emergency dentist for further advice. If you have concerns, schedule an appointment with us at Southport Park Family Dental by calling on (07) 5655 7688.





Mayo Clinic: Periodontitis

Colgate: Cavities




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