Tooth Abscess: Complications and How to Take Care of It

You’ve started feeling a bit of pain in your mouth. You think it might be a toothache, but the source of pain feels a bit lower than that, almost like it’s closer to your gums. You just might have a tooth abscess, which is an unpleasant condition that can affect your teeth and overall health.

In this post, we will discuss the different types of tooth abscesses, the causes of them, the dangers of leaving them untreated, and options for dental care.

Before we begin, if you are facing a dental emergency, please seek the help of a professional dentist right away. The Hendricks County Health Partnership has put together a list of urgent dental options in Hendricks County, many of them offering 24-hour services.

What Is a Tooth Abscess?

A tooth abscess is a pocket of pus that shows up within the tooth or beside it. This is typically caused by a bacterial infection and can occur in different places in or around the tooth. The most common abscess is a periapical abscess, which occurs at the tip of the root of the tooth. Another abscess is the periodontal abscess, which occurs at the side of the root of the tooth in the gums.

A tooth abscess is classified as a dental emergency. Dental emergencies are any situation that involves uncontrollable bleeding, facial trauma, and any other problem that has the potential to be life-threatening. Dental abscesses fall under the emergency category due to their potential of being life-threatening as well as being a form of facial trauma.

Dental emergencies mean that you should immediately contact the dentist to take care of the abscess. Not getting it treated right away can lead to dangerous complications, but first, let’s discuss the possible causes of these abscesses.

What Are the Causes of Abscesses?

Abscesses are caused by some form of bacterial infection, and there are a few ways a periapical abscess can occur. Prior dental work can cause abscess formation, along with an untreated dental cavity, or a dental injury.

Dental injuries such as a broken tooth can cause an abscess. This is due to bacteria being able to seep into an open tooth and spread down to the pulp, where the abscess will form. Other dental injuries can cause a dental abscess due to the possibility of the inner pulp being injured.

A periodontal abscess can be caused by periodontitis or gum disease. This can leave deep pockets where pus and bacteria can form. This can happen when food falls into those pockets or tartar builds up in those pockets.

An abscess will typically look like a red ball protruding from the gums. A periodontal abscess will look bigger and brighter, while the periapical abscess will look like a small pink ball. Tooth abscesses come with their fair share of symptoms.

Symptoms of Tooth Abscesses

There are several symptoms of a dental abscess. These symptoms are usually the same across the board for periapical and periodontal abscesses. The symptoms for tooth abscesses include:

  • Swelling in your face or cheek
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes under your jaw or in your neck
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Severe and persistent toothache
  • Sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures
  • Abscess rupturing and foul, salty fluid in your mouth

Another symptom of a dental abscess is a tooth infection.

Tooth Infection

A tooth infection can be the result of leaving a tooth abscess untreated. Tooth infections can be caused by heavy smoking, poor dental hygiene, and anything that can make bacteria thrive in your mouth.

Leaving a tooth infection untreated can lead to more complications as the infection can spread to the jawbone and the soft tissues of the neck and the face. In extremely rare instances, the infection can travel to the brain and the heart, but these are very uncommon occurrences.

There are several symptoms of a tooth infection. There are different feelings of pain you may feel if you have one, including:

  • Sharp or shooting pain
  • Continuous pain, or only when chewing
  • Branching out to the jawbone, ear, or neck
  • Gnawing or throbbing pain

There are also other oral symptoms of a tooth infection. These are similar to the tooth abscess symptoms and include:

  • Foul-smelling breath
  • Loosening of the tooth
  • Swollen area in upper or lower jaw
  • Bitter taste in the mouth
  • Gum redness and swelling
  • Open draining sore on the side of the gum

Lastly, you may feel some general symptoms like a fever, generally feeling ill, and swollen neck glands. There are several reasons why you should get a dental abscess treated right away.

Dangers of an Untreated Dental Abscess

Leaving a dental abscess untreated can lead to some serious complications. The pain may decrease if the abscess bursts, but the abscess won’t be drained. If the ruptured abscess is not drained, then there is a risk of the infection spreading to your jaw and other areas of your head and neck. In some cases, you may develop a condition called sepsis.


Sepsis is an extreme response of the body to infection. This happens when an infection you already have triggers a chain reaction throughout your body, and it can be dangerous. While sepsis coming from an abscess rupture isn’t common, it is still a possibility. Some of the symptoms of sepsis include:

  • Fever and shivering
  • Extreme pain or discomfort
  • Clammy or sweaty skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • High heart rate or low blood pressure
  • Confusion

There are a few ways to prevent these complications as well as prevent dental abscesses.

Prevention of Dental Abscesses

One of the best ways to prevent dental abscesses is to take great care of your teeth. Taking care of your teeth will avoid tooth decay, which is one of the most common causes of an abscess. To avoid tooth decay, you should:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day
  • Replace your toothbrush every three or four months
  • Use fluoride toothpaste and fluoridated drinking water
  • Visit your dentist for regular checkups and professional cleanings

If you already have an abscess, the best course of action is to get dental treatment.

Dental Treatment at HOPE Healthcare

HOPE Healthcare is here to help patients by offering low-cost dental services to our fellow Hoosiers without health insurance. With licensed dentists who specialize in oral health, we are prepared to handle your teeth with care. We provide the highest level of care possible for the residents of Hendricks County.

More than 8% of Hendricks County residents are uninsured. HOPE Healthcare recognizes this and wants to help lessen the burden that our community may carry. Every patient deserves the best care, no matter their financial status. Our services include:

  • Extractions
  • Diagnoses
  • Fillings
  • X-Rays
  • Cleanings
  • Dentures
  • Referrals for oral surgeries and root canals

HOPE Healthcare Is Here for You

HOPE Healthcare is here to give you the best care we can, no matter what your financial situation is. Located in Hendricks County, we understand that not all of our fellow Hoosiers may be insured. We are here to help lessen that burden by providing you with top-quality, low-cost dental care. Call (317) 272-0708 for more information today.


Can a tooth abscess go away on its own?

No. A tooth abscess will not go away without treatment. While the pain might decrease if it ruptures, the infection will still be there and can possibly lead to sepsis.

Is a tooth abscess an emergency?

Yes, a tooth abscess is a dental emergency. Leaving a tooth abscess alone can lead to serious infection, and only a dentist can properly drain an abscess.

What does a tooth abscess look and feel like?

A periapical tooth abscess looks like a small, pink ball, almost like a pimple on the inside of your mouth. A periodontal abscess looks like a big red ball protruding from your gums. Both will feel like a throbbing sensation.

How long does a tooth abscess last?

If untreated, a tooth abscess can last several months to years. In this time, the abscess still has the chance of rupturing, which would create more problems. However, the wound from a treated abscess (one that has been properly drained) will heal in about one to two weeks.