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Dental abscess

A dental abscess is a collection of pus that can form inside the teeth, in the gums or in the bone that holds the teeth in place. It's caused by a bacterial infection.

An abscess at the end of a tooth is called a periapical abscess. An abscess in the gum is called a periodontal abscess.

Dental abscesses are often painful, but not always. In either case, they should be looked at by a dentist.

It's important to get help as soon as possible, as abscesses do not go away on their own.

They can sometimes spread to other parts of the body and make you ill.

Symptoms of an abscess in your tooth or gum may include:

If the infection spreads, you may also develop a high temperature (fever) and feel generally unwell.

In severe cases, you may find it hard to fully open your mouth and have difficulty swallowing or breathing.

What to do if you have a dental abscess

You should see a dentist as soon as possible if you think you have a dental abscess.

Avoid visiting a GP, as there's little they can do to help.

You can get help from:

You may have to pay for emergency NHS dental treatment, depending on your circumstances.

Find out about NHS dental charges

While you're waiting to see a dentist, painkillers can help control your pain.

Ibuprofen is the preferred painkiller for dental abscesses, but if you're unable to take it for medical reasons, you can take paracetamol instead.

Aspirin should not be given to children under 16.

If 1 painkiller does not relieve the pain, taking both paracetamol and ibuprofen at the doses shown in the medicine leaflet may help.

This is safe for adults, but not for children under 16.

It may also help to:

These measures can help relieve your symptoms temporarily, but you should not use them to delay getting help from a dentist.

Dental abscesses are treated by removing the source of the infection and draining away the pus.

Depending on the location of the abscess and how severe the infection is, possible treatments include:

Local anaesthetic will usually be used to numb your mouth for these procedures.

More extensive operations may be carried out under general anaesthetic, where you're asleep.

Antibiotics are not routinely prescribed for dental abscesses, but may be used if the infection spreads or is particularly severe.

Your mouth is full of bacteria, which form a sticky film on your teeth called plaque.

If you do not keep your teeth clean, acids produced by the bacteria in plaque can damage your teeth and gums, leading to tooth decay or gum disease.

The following can increase your chances of developing a dental abscess:

You can reduce your risk of developing dental abscesses by keeping your teeth and gums as healthy as possible.

To do this, you should:

Read more on how to keep your teeth clean and dental check-ups.