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woman with abscessed tooth

There are many different causes of toothache, some more serious than others. One particularly painful and potentially dangerous cause is an abscessed tooth. An abscessed tooth is an infection at the root of the tooth or between the gum and the tooth. It requires immediate medical attention because the infection can spread from the tooth’s root to the surrounding bones. Yet, many people are unaware of the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for this painful infection.

Causes and Symptoms

An abscessed tooth occurs when there’s an opening in the tooth’s enamel that allows bacteria to spread to the pulp, which is the center of the tooth. These openings in the enamel often occur due to severe, untreated tooth decay. Other potential causes include periodontal disease and trauma to the tooth. While it’s not possible to definitively diagnose an abscessed tooth at home, there are some common symptoms you can be on the lookout for:

  • Tooth sensitivity. While tooth sensitivity can have several other causes, extreme and persistent sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures is worth further investigating.
  • Tooth pain when chewing food. If chewing food is extremely painful for you, an abscessed tooth might be the culprit behind your discomfort.
  • Fever. Because an abscessed tooth is an infection, the body often responds with a fever.
  • Feeling ill and uncomfortable. Many patients who suffer from an abscessed tooth report a general feeling of discomfort and achiness in their bodies.
  • Swollen, red gums. Tender, swollen gums are a common sign of gum disease, but it can also indicate an abscessed tooth.
  • Sore on the gums. If you have an open sore on your gums that’s draining fluid, visit your dentist immediately; an abscessed tooth is likely.
  • Bitter taste in the mouth. Another lesser-known symptom of an abscessed tooth is a persistent, bitter taste in the mouth that doesn’t occur as a result of consuming a particular food or drink.
  • Halitosis. There are numerous causes of bad breath, but if your breath is particularly foul-smelling, an abscessed tooth might be the cause.
  • Swollen glands. Swollen glands in the neck commonly occur with an abscessed tooth.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your dentist will diagnose an abscessed tooth by asking clarifying questions about your symptoms and using an instrument to probe the affected tooth. He will also likely look around your mouth for other telltale signs, such as swollen, red gums. Once the diagnosis is made, your dentist will discuss a treatment plan with you. Treatment depends on the severity of the infection, but the overall goals of treatment include getting rid of the infection and preserving the tooth. Treatment options include:

  • Root canal. The abscess is often drained through root canal therapy; a crown is then placed on the tooth.
  • Root surgery. Once the infection is eliminated, root surgery is sometimes necessary. This is to remove any remaining diseased tissue that occurred as a result of the infection.
  • Extraction. Sometimes, the abscessed tooth will need to be completely extracted; drainage will then occur through the tooth’s socket.
  • Incision. In order to drain the abscess, an incision might be made into the gum tissue.
  • Antibiotics. Your dentist will likely prescribe an antibiotic to fight the infection.


Because the major causes of an abscessed tooth are tooth decay and gum disease, good oral hygiene is the number one way to prevent developing this painful infection. Brushing twice a day, flossing daily, and visiting your dentist twice a year for check-ups and professional cleanings are all vital components of your oral health.

If you think you’re suffering from an abscessed tooth, it’s important to seek help immediately. Contact TruBlu Dentistry today in Burbank and Chicago, IL.

Be proud of your smile.