Thrive Dental & Orthodontics - Logo

Tooth Abscess Emergency: All You Need To Know

I want to talk to you about a common dental emergency that can lead to severe complications if not treated promptly by an emergency dentist. I’m talking about a tooth abscess.

What is a tooth abscess?

A tooth abscess is a pocket of pus caused by an infection of the tooth and can occur in different areas of the tooth. A periapical abscess is an abscess that occurs at the tip of the root of the tooth.

A periapical tooth abscess is caused by an untreated dental cavity, trauma, or previous dental work that has failed. Bacteria invade the dental pulp – the innermost part of the tooth that contains the blood vessels, nerves, and tissue. Bacteria can enter the pulp through a dental cavity or a crack in the tooth and spread all the down to the root, causing swelling and inflammation at the tip of the root.

Tooth abscess signs and symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of a tooth abscess may include:

  • Severe, persistent toothache that may radiate along the side of the face, neck, jaw, and ear
  • Sensitivity to cold and hot temperatures
  • Pain to pressure from chewing or biting
  • Fever and lethargy
  • Tender, swollen lymph nodes under the jaw or in your neck
  • A rush of foul-smelling and foul-tasting fluid in your mouth and sudden pain relief, if the abscess ruptures.
  • Difficulty opening and closing the mouth
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing 

How to treat a tooth abscess

See your dentist right away if you have any signs or symptoms of a tooth abscess. If you have difficulty swallowing, breathing, or fever and swelling in your face and you can’t reach the dentist, go straight to an urgent care center or emergency room.

Your dentist may put you on antibiotics to treat the infection. He or she may drain the abscess to help get rid of the infection.

A root canal treatment may be needed if the tooth is restorable. Otherwise, the tooth may need an extraction.

Note: Leaving a tooth abscess untreated can lead to serious, even life-threatening complications. 

The stages of a tooth abscess

A tooth abscess starts local to the tooth and surrounding gum area. The abscess may rupture but you will still need to see your dentist for treatment.

The abscess could spread to the jaw and surrounding areas of your head and neck. You may have a swollen face, or your eye may swell shut. If left untreated, you may even develop sepsis – a life-threatening infection that spreads throughout your whole body. 

Tooth abscess at-home remedy?

Some people may try to treat a tooth abscess at home if they’re afraid of the dentist or can’t afford dental treatment. Please do not try to pull out your tooth or treat the tooth abscess yourself as this can be dangerous and make the problem worse. 

Please see your dentist immediately. At Thrive Dental, we provide same-day emergency dental visits so we can get you out of pain as quickly as possible.

Here are some temporary solutions to help relieve some of the pain at home until you get in to see your dentist.

Cold compress

Try holding a cold compress against the side of the face by the area affected. Apply the compress for 20 minutes at a time. And use a towel as a barrier to protect your skin.


Benzocaine is a topical anesthetic that can help relieve tooth and gum pain. Apply the 20% benzocaine to the tooth and gum area affected every 2 hours. Do not use benzocaine for children under age 2.

Otc pain meds

If you don’t have stomach issues or contraindicating health conditions, you can take up to three tabs of over-the-counter ibuprofen every 4-6 hours as needed for temporary pain and inflammation relief.

Tea bag

Some teas like Peppermint and Chamomile have calming and antibacterial qualities that can help reduce tooth abscess pain. For mild pain relief, hold a wet tea bag to the affected area.

Clove oil

An essential oil like clove oil may offer short-term pain relief for a tooth abscess. Studies have shown clove oil may almost be as effective as benzocaine for toothache relief.

Make sure to always use a carrier oil tp prevent chemical burns to the delicate tissues of the mouth.

In conclusion

A tooth abscess is an infection of the mouth that can spread into the surrounding areas of the body and requires emergency dental care.

Signs and symptoms of a tooth abscess include: severe, persistent, radiating pain along the face and neck, swelling, fever, difficulty eating, breathing, and swallowing.

The tooth abscess stages start from the decay and infection of the tooth and gum area. It eventually spreads to the surrounding tissues of the mouth and face. And the disease can eventually spread to the whole body, which can be dangerous.

Please do not try to treat the abscess or the tooth yourself at home.

Come in right away to see us for an emergency dental visit or go to an emergency room near you.

In the meantime, you can try some of these home remedies for pain relief until you see your dentist. These include cold compress, OTC pain meds, benzocaine, tea bags, and clove oil.

Prevention is key. Avoid tooth decay to prevent a tooth abscess by practicing good oral hygiene care.

If you have a tooth abscess, please don’t wait! Come see us today for a same-day Emergency Dental visit!

by Dr. Christine Coughlin DDS

Learn More:

How to Get Rid of a Toothache At Home

How to Heal & Prevent Cavities

Skip to content