What Are Dental Abscesses?

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If you’ve had a dental procedure such as a root canal lately, your dentist may have warned you to avoid certain activities to prevent an abscessed tooth. Or, you might already be experiencing pain and swelling of the gums—symptoms which could be signs of an abscess. But what are dental abscesses? Here, we explain the condition, its causes, and treatment of an issue that can range from discomfort to fatality.

What Qualifies for Dental Abscesses?

Dental abscesses are an infection of the mouth, throat, jaw, and face that begin as a result of a tooth infection. The infection can start as periodontal disease, a deep cavity, cracked tooth, jaw trauma, and sometimes as a result of a prior dental procedure such as an implant or extractions.

Often, infections are a result of a lack of proper dental care. They also might be from dental procedures that are getting older, hence starting to leak and fail.

The condition can become very painful, especially when the tissues become more inflamed as a result of the pressure caused by the abscesses.

Infection to Other Parts of the Body

Dental abscesses can be dangerous because the infection won’t always stay local—it can spread to other parts of the body.

Bacteria from the tooth can move into the gums, cheeks, throat, tissues below the tongue, jaw, and facial bones.

A gum or gingival abscesses may occur as a result of trauma on the gum tissues. Periodontal abscesses result from an infection that has extended into the gum areas. These start on the surfaces on the outside of the tooth. Periapical abscesses occur when an infection starts on the dental pulp.

Pus may collect in the area of infection as the body’s immune system fights to keep the infection from spreading. The infection may not always be painful, but the condition becomes progressively painful until the abscesses rapture or drain on its own.

Extreme cases of dental abscesses can result in death if the infections spread to the brain.

Causes of Dental Abscesses

The cause of the condition is the growth of bacteria from a cavity into the soft tissues, jaws, and neck. An infected tooth that doesn’t receive proper dental care can cause abscesses to form. Poor oral hygiene, including not brushing, rinsing, or flossing correctly, may also cause the condition.

Other factors that can increase the chances of an abscessed tooth include consumption of alcohol, smoking, poor diet, certain medical conditions, and medications.

Risk Factors

The following factors may increase your chances of developing tooth abscesses:

  • Dry mouth: Having a dry mouth can contribute to the risk of tooth decay, which can cause abscesses. Dry mouth can be a side effect of certain medications or aging issues.
  • Diet high in sugar: Frequently consuming foods and drinks rich in sugar such as sweets and sodas can cause dental cavities and turn into dental abscesses.
  • Weakened immune system or autoimmune disorders: Some people with underlying medical issues also may be more susceptible to develop dental abscesses. They include people with autoimmune diseases such as Sjogren’s syndrome and other conditions that weaken the immune system, including diabetes, chemotherapy and post-radiation care, and immunosuppressive therapy.

Signs and Symptoms of Dental Abscesses

The common symptoms of dental abscesses include:

  • Toothache and pain from jaws
  • Swelling
  • Redness of the mouth and face

In cases of advanced infection, one can experience sensitivity on one or more teeth, followed by other complications such as:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Difficulty in breathing, swallowing and opening the mouth

If the condition remains untreated for long, the infection can spread through the bones and damage adjacent teeth, which calls for urgent treatment.

Often, the signs associated with dental abscesses include:

  • Gum inflammation
  • Deep cavities
  • Tenderness on the face with a touch
  • Oral or facial swelling
  • Drainage of pus
  • Limited ability to open the mouth

If dental abscesses spread to the adjacent area, it’s common to find tenderness or palpation to touch the infected area. Dental abscesses may be mild or extremely severe, so there can be no symptoms or severe symptoms.

Depending on several factors such as the patients’ health, the abscesses may also be chronic or acute, stable, or rapidly spreading. In some cases, the condition may spread through the bones to the bloodstream. The spread can damage organs or even result in the death of the patient.

Diagnosis of Dental Abscesses

Medical experts recommend all individuals to visit the dentist’s office every month so that the dentist can spot any signs of dental abscesses.

The dentist or doctor can tell whether you have dental abscesses by:

  • Carrying out a physical examination to check whether there’s an abscess
  • Performing X-rays of the mouth to expose small abscesses that may be in the deepest parts of the tooth


Dentists treat this condition by getting rid of the infection or by performing a tooth canal procedure if the tooth is salvageable. They also can surgically drain the infection. In severe cases, they will have to remove the tooth.

At Valley Ridge Dental Centre, the treatments we provide depend on the location of the abscess. They include but are not limited to:

  • Incision: The dentist will cut out the abscess and drain the pus, which contains infection-causing bacteria. The doctor admits a local anaesthetic during the procedure.
  • Root canal: Periapical abscesses require a root canal to remove the abscess. A drill will bore a hole into the enamel so that the pus can drain. Any damaged tissue will require removal from the pulp as well. A root filling replaces the tissue and prevents further infections.
  • Surgery: Patients with periapical abscesses or a recurring infection may need to have the infected tissue removed surgically. An oral surgeon performs the procedure. The surgeon will reshape the gum tissue and remove the periodontal pocket. If the dental abscesses persist even after the surgery, they may have to remove the entire tooth.
  • Antibiotics: Your dentist may prescribe antibiotics, such as amoxicillin and metronidazole. These medications can prevent the infection from spreading. However, antibiotics are not a substitute for treatment.

Pain Management

There are actions that you can take to relieve the pain while waiting for treatment, including:

  • Taking over-the-counter painkillers such as aspirin, ibuprofen, Tylenol. However, if the patient has another underlying condition such as asthma, stomach ulcers, or pregnancy, it is best if they see a doctor first.
  • Avoiding drinking overly hot or cold drinks
  • Chewing on the side of the mouth without an abscess
  • Using a brush with soft bristles
  • Not flossing around the infected area

Need a Check-Up?

If you’re concerned that you may have an abscessed tooth, contact our office in NW Calgary today. We’ll set you up with an appointment to make sure you have optimal dental health.

We are pleased to WELCOME YOU BACK! We are practicing SAFE DENTISTRY!

Rest assured that we have taken steps above what was required. After all, your health is our highest priority. We are finally OPEN and look forward to seeing you again soon!


  • When we speak with you regarding your appointment, we will be asking you additional screening questions. Patients who exhibit any symptoms will need to postpone their treatment.
  • When you arrive to your appointment, please wait in your car until your appointment time and bring as little as possible into the office with you.
  • If you have a mask or face covering, we encourage you to wear one to your appointment.
  • We will ask that you sanitize/wash your hands with soap and water upon entering the office and before leaving.
  • There will be a consent form for patients to sign upon arrival and we want you to know that the guidelines in place currently have staff member signing off on a daily consent that ensures they are ready and prepared to provide treatment in the safest possible way.

We want to assure everyone that our office takes the safety and health of our patients, their families, team members and doctors very seriously. Although our operations will be slightly different today than they were previously, we are excited to finally welcome you all back in a slow and safe manner.

Thank you for your patience and understanding during this time of transition to the new normal.

Your Dental Team