Tooth abscesses can be painful. They can cause sensitivity to both hot and cold substances, make it hard to eat or drink, and even make it difficult to swallow and breathe.
But not everyone is eager to head to the dentist. If you’re reading this, you’re probably interested in ways to get rid of a tooth abscess without making an appointment.
In this article, I’ll talk about what a tooth abscess is.
I’ll discuss symptoms, causes, and some home remedies for tooth abscesses.
Finally, I’ll talk about other treatment options for a tooth abscess.
What is a Tooth Abscess?
A tooth abscess is a collection of pus that forms when a tooth gets infected with bacteria.
It usually happens when a person has a decayed or broken tooth.
Bacteria from the mouth moves through the broken opening into the tooth’s pulp (the part that contains nerves and blood vessels), causing infection.
There are two major types of tooth abscesses: a periapical abscess and a periodontal abscess.
A periapical tooth abscess forms at the tip of the root (the part of the tooth just below the gum).
These abscesses usually happen in people with dental cavities.
If dental cavities are left untreated, the inside of your tooth becomes exposed to substances that can inflame the nerves and blood vessels and cause pain.
A periodontal abscess forms in the gums and is often the result of untreated, serious gum disease.
You can usually find this type of abscess by the side of the tooth.
Symptoms of a Tooth Abscess
The primary symptom of a tooth abscess is a prolonged toothache.
Some people describe the pain as sharp, throbbing, or gnawing.
Some other symptoms of a tooth abscess include:
- Pain when chewing
- Sensitivity of teeth to hot or cold food or drink
- Swollen neck glands
- Breath odor
- Swollen gum
- Swollen upper or lower jaw
- Bitter taste in the mouth
- Trouble breathing or swallowing
- A salty taste in the mouth
In some cases, the pulp of the affected tooth can die.
When this happens, the person stops feeling any pain, but that doesn’t mean the tooth abscess is gone.
The infections may continue spreading to other parts of the mouth and face and can cause serious problems.
Causes of a Tooth Abscess
Tooth abscesses can occur when a person has injuries or damage to their tooth.
It can also happen with people with certain medical conditions that make them vulnerable to tooth problems, smokers, or people who consume too much sugary food.
I’ll explain some of these causes below.
Injuries and Damage
A tooth abscess may occur when a person’s tooth decays or when the tooth is broken or chipped.
The mouth is full of bacteria, and when there is an injury to the tooth, some bacteria can get into the center of the tooth (pulp), where it can cause infections.
As the infection grows in the pulp, it causes tissue swelling and a buildup of pus within the tooth.
Dental abscesses also happen with partially exposed wisdom teeth.
Bacteria gets trapped in the tooth’s crown and in the soft tissue surrounding it, leading to inflammation.
Underlying Medical Conditions
Some medical conditions make people more likely to get tooth abscesses.
- Amelogenesis imperfecta: This is a tooth development disorder that causes teeth to be small, discolored, and prone to breakage and damage. This condition causes a patient’s teeth to naturally have weak enamel which can be worn down more easily, allowing for bacterial infection.
- Cancer: Cancer patients often have to go through chemotherapy. This treatment can lower the immune system’s effectiveness, making it easier for a person to have a dental abscess.
- HIV/AIDs: This can suppress the immune system, making patients more susceptible to tooth abscesses.
In this condition, the person has a dry mouth, which hastens microbial growth in their mouth.
Eating a diet high in sugar can put a person at risk of getting a tooth abscess.
Sugary foods promote bacteria growth.
Oral bacteria combine with food and form a sticky material called plaque.
The bacteria in plaque combine with sugar to make acids.
These acids affect your enamel and may eventually lead to tooth decay that may cause a tooth abscess.
Home Remedies for Tooth Abscesses
It’s best to see a dentist when you have a tooth abscess.
But if you’re in pain and unable to see a dentist right away, there are some home remedies you can try to relieve the pain and manage the spread of the infection.
These remedies include:
Rinse Using Salt Water
Rinsing your mouth with salt water will give you some relief from tooth pain.
Saltwater has some anti-inflammatory and wound healing effects.
If you’d like to use the saltwater remedy, mix 1⁄2 teaspoon of table salt with ½ cup of water.
Next, rinse your mouth with the saltwater and swish it around your mouth for at least two minutes, then spit the water out.
Do this up to three times daily.
Baking soda has some antibacterial properties and also removes plaque from the mouth.
To use this remedy, make a mixture of baking soda and water.
Mix ½ tablespoon of baking soda with water and rinse your mouth with the mixture for five minutes.
Spit out and repeat the process until you’re done with the mixture.
Oregano oil is an essential oil with some antioxidant and antibacterial properties.
It may help reduce pain and swelling caused by a tooth abscess.
Oregano oil is pretty strong, so to avoid irritation, be sure to dilute it with a carrier oil before use.
Carrier oils are oils that dilute essential oils and make them safe to use.
You can dilute your essential oils correctly, using this guide:
Diluting for adults:
- 2.5 percent dilution: 15 drops of essential oil to 6 teaspoons of carrier oil
- 3 percent dilution: 20 drops of essential oil to 6 teaspoons of carrier oil
- 5 percent dilution: 30 drops of essential oil to 6 teaspoons of carrier oil
- 10 percent dilution: 60 drops of essential oil to 6 teaspoons of carrier oil
Diluting for children:
- 0.5 to 1 percent dilution: 3 to 6 drops of essential oil to 6 teaspoons of carrier oil
After you’ve diluted the oregano oil, apply a few drops of the diluted oil to a swab or cotton ball.
Put the cotton ball in contact with the tooth abscess and leave for 10 minutes before rinsing out.
Repeat this process three times daily.
Hydrogen peroxide has strong antibacterial properties.
It’s also helpful in reducing dental plaque and bleeding gums.
Make a solution by mixing equal parts hydrogen peroxide with water.
Be careful not to swallow any of it as you swish it around your mouth.
Carefully spit out the mixture.
You can repeat this procedure multiple times daily, as needed.
Applying ice to your tooth abscess can help reduce the swelling and pain.
This method won’t heal your abscess, but it’ll provide some much-needed relief.
To use a cold compress, place ice cubes in a dry towel and press the towel against your skin near the affected area. Use this for 15 minutes multiple times a day.
Applying garlic to your tooth abscess can yield some positive results, although it may give you bad breath for a while.
To use this remedy, crush a fresh clove of garlic into a paste and rub it on the infected area.
You can repeat this multiple times in a day.
Other Tooth Abscess Treatments
Besides the home remedies mentioned, you can get proper treatment for your tooth abscess when you visit a dentist.
Your dentist may employ any of these treatment methods:
Your dentist will drain out the pus from the abscess by making a small cut into the abscess.
They’ll then wash the area with a saline solution.
Sometimes, they may place a small rubber drain in the mouth to keep the area open for drainage.
This procedure helps to eliminate the infection.
Your dentist drills down into the affected tooth and removes any infected pulp.
Next, they drain the abscess and then fill and seal the pulp chamber and root canals.
They may also cap your tooth with a crown to make it stronger.
Sometimes, the affected tooth may be too damaged to save.
The dentist will have to remove the tooth before draining the abscess when this happens.
Depending on the severity, your dentist may prescribe oral antibiotics to help treat the infection.
They may do this if your immune system is too weak to fight off the infection on its own or if the infection has spread beyond the abscessed region.
When to See a Dentist for a Tooth Abscess
Tooth abscesses can often spread to other parts of the face if not treated. If you have a tooth abscess, see a dentist.
If you’re handling your treatment alone at home, see a doctor if you notice symptoms of fever, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing.
How K Health Can Help
Did you know that you can get online dental prescriptions for tooth infections?
Download the K Health app to check your symptoms using our symptom checker and text with a doctor in minutes.
K Health’s board-certified, U.S.-based doctors can provide a treatment plan and, if required, a prescription to resolve your symptoms as soon as possible. Clinicians are available 24/7.
Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
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