man with tooth pain


An abscess is one of the most critical oral health situations that can arise, and may be caused by severe dental decay or periodontal disease. Since abscesses are caused by bacterial infection, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms, so they can be treated before infection spreads to other parts of the body.

You may have heard a news story about a California man who died recently when an infection spread from his tooth to his lungs over a short period of time. The man was only 26 years old and was in otherwise good health. These types of infection are no joke; learn to recognize the symptoms and see Dr. Gary Nack regularly for dental cleanings and check-ups to protect your oral health.

If you are overdue for a dental visit, call our Holland, Pennsylvania dental practice at 215-364-6540 to make an appointment with Dr. Nack. He will assess your oral health and administer preventive treatments to keep your teeth and gums in great shape.


One of the dangers of abscesses is that they can start out relatively small, but progress over a period of months, or even years. You may not realize it’s there until you are in excruciating pain—but if you know the signs, you may be able to seek treatment before the condition becomes serious.

Luckily, if you are already seeing a dentist regularly for six-month visits, you are not as likely to develop an abscess, since tooth decay is routinely spotted and treated before it advances to the point of infection.


Symptoms of an Abscess

An abscess is a pocket of bacteria that forms in or outside of a tooth. Your body creates a barrier around the infection, which is nature’s way of trying to contain it and prevent it from spreading. The abscess will swell and create pus, and will become extremely painful if it does not drain. Sometimes a tunnel forms on the inside of your mouth or cheek to allow the pus to drain. This tunnel is called a fistula, or sinus tract. It may feel like a pimple, and would cause you to have an unusual, salty taste in your mouth.

The usual symptoms of a dental abscess include:

  • severe toothache, which may be constant and throbbing
  • radiating pain into the jaw or neck
  • swelling in your face or cheek
  • fever
  • pain upon biting
  • sensitivity to hot and cold
  • swollen lymph glands in neck, under jaw
  • leakage of pus in the mouth, causing an unpleasant taste/smell

An abscess may cease hurting when the pus has drained from it, but that does not mean it has healed. The bacterial infection is still there. If you experience pain that fits these descriptors, see your dentist promptly even if it does not hurt at the moment, as you will need thorough treatment to prevent the infection from spreading to other parts of your body.


Treatment for Dental Abscess

The usual treatment includes draining the abscess, cleaning it thoroughly and antibiotics to kill the infection. If the abscess is caused by severe tooth decay, the tooth will very likely need root canal treatment. If the tooth is too badly damaged by decay, however, it might require an extraction.


Periodontal Abscess

Abscesses don’t just happen to teeth; they can also form in periodontal pockets. For patients with gum disease, bacterial growth within the gums themselves can create an abscess. These happen most frequently in patients who have severe gum disease. A periodontal abscess will require the same treatment as a tooth abscess: draining, cleaning, and antibiotics.

If you have gum disease, periodontal treatments are the best way to ensure an abscess never forms in your mouth. Patients with severe periodontal disease and recurrent abscesses are usually recommended to consider full mouth restoration, for their own comfort and quality of life.


If you have a toothache,  call our Holland, Pennsylvania dental practice at 215-364-6540 to make an appointment with Dr. Nack.

Dr. Gary Nack

Author Dr. Gary Nack

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