Dental abscess 

Introduction 

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Who gets dental abscesses?

Anyone with teeth can develop a dental abscess – children and adults are equally affected.

A study carried out in America found that, on average, one in eight people seek treatment for a dental abscess in any given two-year period.

In England, the figure is thought to be higher, as levels of dental hygiene tend to be poorer. About 11,000 people are treated in hospital for dental abscesses in England each year.

Finding an NHS dentist

Find out how to find an NHS dentist, including where to seek help if you have difficulties locating one in your local area

A dental abscess is a collection of pus that forms in your teeth and spreads to the surrounding tissue. It forms as the result of a bacterial infection.

The main symptom of a dental abscess is a severe, throbbing pain. The pain usually comes on suddenly, gets gradually worse over a few hours or days, and causes teeth to be tender and sensitive.

Read more about the symptoms of a dental abscess.

Types and causes of dental abscesses

There are two types of dental abscess:

  • periapical abscess – where the abscess forms under the tooth (this is the most common type of dental abscess)
  • periodontal abscess – where the abscess forms in the supporting gum and bone

Both types are caused when bacteria build up inside your mouth and usually occurs due to a combination of:

  • poor dental hygiene – not cleaning your teeth and gums properly and regularly (read our advice on how to brush and floss your teeth)
  • consuming lots of sugary or starchy food and drink – the carbohydrates in these encourage bacteria to grow, causing tooth decay

Read more about the causes of a dental abscess.

Treating dental abscesses

If you think you may have a dental abscess, make a dentist appointment as soon as possible.

There isn't a lot your GP can do other than recommend painkillers, such as ibuprofen or paracetamol, to help relieve the pain. You can get these over the counter from your local pharmacist.

Treatment varies, depending on what caused the abscess. Generally, treatment involves draining the pus, either with root canal treatment, removing the affected tooth or gum treatment.

This type of treatment should not be too painful, as local anaesthetic will be used to numb the affected area of your mouth.

Unlike some other types of infection, a dental abscess will not get better on its own and must be treated by a dentist. With appropriate treatment, the bacterial infection that causes a dental abscess can usually be cured. Antibiotics are not used to treat a dental abscess, but may occasionally be used to reduce the symptoms.

Read more about how a dental abscess is treated.

Complications of dental abscesses

Complications are rare, but can be serious. For example, the infection may spread to a nearby bone (osteomyelitis).

Read more about the complications of a dental abscess.

Finding an NHS dentist

If you are not registered with an NHS dentist, there are a number of options available to you:

Emergency treatment

If you are in severe pain, you may need emergency out-of-hours dental treatment.

Find out how you can access an NHS dentist in an emergency or out-of-hours.

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

Find out more about NHS dental services.




Page last reviewed: 14/05/2014

Next review due: 14/05/2016

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Comments

The 15 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

trendy3169 said on 25 February 2014

I had a crown for 17 years and had no trouble then my tooth next to this fell out (baby tooth still have 4 more) I went to the dentist and had a bridge fitted the following day I developed an abcess over the said bridge, it was a Saturday the dentist was closed rang the dentist to find was my own dentist that was on call but he wasnt answering as he was golfing (his receptionist informed me on the monday) to cut a long story short I ended up at a&e on sunday morning at 3 am red line snaking down from abcess to my neck I had an injection and was given antibiotics and told must see dentist 1st thing monday I went back to the dentist monday morning and he was veryannoyed that iI had gone to hospital and drilled through the new bridge straight into the abcess all this was done without any anesthetic I have never felt pain in my life like it. This was several years ago and I obviously changed dentists but since then I have had recurring abcesses in the same place

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Grace96 said on 23 February 2014

I had a toothache for two days so made an emergency appointment to see my dentist who refused to do an x-Ray and told me 'it was probably my inflamed gums hurting my teeth.' By Sunday the pain had become excruciatingly bad and I phoned NHS direct however the first person i spoke to was incredibly unhelpful, he just told me to continue taking painkillers and see my dentist within three working days. I phoned my dental surgery for an out of hours phone number, which put me through again to NHS direct and after being asked the same questions that I'd just answered, she put me through yet again to somebody else until the out of hours dentist phoned me and offered me an appointment straight away. She did an x-Ray and found a dental a abscess caused by a filling put in by my dentist. The service was brilliant on her part, but on the part of NHS direct and my normal dentist was absolutely appalling. They were happy to leave me in unbearable pain and only got me an appointment after persistence, which should be offered straight away if someone is in agony. Once again, I feel let down and fobbed off by the service.

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wendymeg said on 05 October 2013

2 days ago mine started at first I thought there was food trapped under a crown but as it got more painful I realised it was an abscess. My dentist couldnt fit me in for 3 days so I read advice about what I could do in the meantime. Tried hot salt water rises and garlic poultices which made tge swelling and pain worse. I tried aspirin which helped. On the saturday the pain was excruciating. My sister said to try ibruprofen which I did but called 111 as i was worried and still in pain. They were excellent. Said to avoid hot and cold, to take ibuprofen and paracetomol and tgat the emergency dentist would call within 2 hours. He dix and I have a hospital appointment tomorroe. Ten out of ten NHS.

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sophielouisehdw said on 21 March 2013

My tooth broke in half over a year ago now due to their being a cavity in it and I avoided going to the dentist as I have developed a phobia of them! My dentist who I have seen since I was born put some paste which he said would fill the tooth for a while as my nerve was exposed and was becoming irritated. The irritation never went and recently I developed an infection under my tooth after I somehow bruised the blood vessels under it, which has now left me with a horrible abscess on my gum which bursts and refills every day. I went to my dentist and he told me that the infection wasn't severe and that my nerve was laying "dormant" and could be in the stages on dying as I have had no pain, only extreme discomfort when eating on it. So, he prescribed my done antibiotics but only to take if I have 2 or more days of excruciating pain, in which after I have taken them he would perform a root canal on the tooth, he said he didn't want to do a root canal first because he seems to think there may be a chance the tooth could calm down and the infections goes on it's own. It has been relatively unnoticeable since I went to see him, but in the last few days my tooth has risen out of the gum and has been extremely uncomfortable and almost impossible to eat on. Also, the abscess has been refilling up again and getting quite big before it bursts, it has barely been there since I saw him. I trust him as he is a very renowned dentist and know for his work, but I am starting to think tooth infections don't go away on their own after reading this article!

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Newtron said on 03 August 2012

Phoned NHS Wales 8.15 am was told they would phone back in half hour which they did was given ref number plus phone number to call at 9.00 am. Appointment made for 6.30 same evening. Arrived treatment started. Sorted. How can you fault that. Well done:)

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LUH2012 said on 09 July 2012

I would advise anyone with a dental abscess to try to make a dental appointment in the first instance. I had a very painful abscess, but hardly any swelling and was worried that I would not be seen urgently by my dentist. Based on the advice provided here I thought I should get some anitbiotics from my GP and wait for a regular appointment with my dentist. I wasted a whole (painful) morning in my GP's waiting room only to be told that he could under no circumstances provide me with anitbiotics for a dental problem.
I then got on the phone to my local urgent access dental clinic and they made me an urgent appointment right away.
I know some of the other people who've commented have had better luck with their GP, but I would not want the information on this page to cause anyone else to waste their time.

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boogiemoog said on 12 February 2012

Putting a bag of peas on it came naturally to me (recent abcess discovered in the tooth and jaw after visit to dentist) after a knee injury several years ago, I really don't see the problem because it should be second nature.

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inquisitive tone said on 22 January 2012

I've had gum disease and now an abscess in jaw. Went to GP as didn't know cause. Says I should have gone to dentist but he prescribed anti'B's (he's a legend!). My dentists wanted to charge so much for gum disease treatment, tried to make go private! I refused because was unaffordable, referred me to Guys for nhs trmt, 6 months wait! There so busy! OK so make the resources better! By then they'll have a right ol mess to sort out! this is not poor, deep Africa! Can't we do better? Longer trtmt is left worse things get, costs more to sort, maybe your life too!

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anneshaw1956 said on 22 November 2011

after a wisdom tooth extration and 12 days of antibiotic for an abcess, 3 phone calls to nhs direct to be given one incorrect contact number and one contact that was closing in 5 minutes , only advice was to put a bag of peas on it, totally totally useless, and we are paying to keep these people in employment.
if i had an abcess on my backside it would get treated asap

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bedazzled said on 16 November 2011

regarding the comment stated by 'mars express', Do you know how lucky we are to have an NHS? Other countries have to pay for any kind of medical treatment, maybe you should ring bupa the next time your ill, oh and don't forget your credit card.

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Mars Express said on 26 September 2011

Where have all my comments gone?

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Mars Express said on 26 September 2011

I have been waiting for two hours for my email verification, but, of course, this is the NHS - you are incapable of doing anything on time!

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bazcoleman said on 25 November 2010

It is not, "totally inappropriate to see a GP with a dental problem". (earlier comment)

For example, if the problem is dental, and you go to your GP, you will be referred to a dentist but you may be prescribes treatment such as antibiotics in the meantime, so the treatment can start immediately.

I was just referred to my GP by my dentist, when phoning for an appointment, for just this reason - so that the treatment can be started before I see my dentist in a few days.

GPs and dentists both work towards our best interests and it's not always clear to the patient who is the best person to see and sometimes both GP and dentist will be involved.

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Poobah said on 30 June 2010

It's totally inappropriate to see a GP with a dental problem. These should be dealt with by dentists, who have the skills to manage the problem properly, rather than just delaying proper treatment with antibiotics, which may not be appropriate

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Gavelect said on 19 August 2009

I was thinking of applying for Dental Insurance as I struggle to get a dentist every time I need one. But I am unsure if you get appointed a dentist straight away if you go private, or do you still have to find one yourself and still have to wait on the waiting lists?

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Dental health

How to care for your teeth, including check-ups, brushing, braces and whitening

How to brush and floss

Brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste will help keep your teeth and mouth healthy

Find and choose services for Dental abscess