Dental Abscess Treatment

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Dental Abscess

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A dental abscess is a collection of pus in or around the tooth and can be a very debilitating and painful condition.

If you think you have a dental abscess then you should see your dentist as soon as possible. Regular analgesia should be the first option to treat a dental abscess. Take painkillers to ease the discomfort. Ibuprofen is the preferred painkiller for dental abscesses, but if you're unable to take it for medical reasons, then take paracetamol instead. It is important to read the information with the painkillers to ensure you take them safely.

Please contact your dentist first. If you are having difficulties in accessing an emergency dental appointment, then in the meantime, we may be able to prescribe an emergency antibiotic if clinically appropriate.

Please see the Common Treatments section below for further information.

Common Symptoms

You may experience some of the following:

  • a toothache (usually an intense throbbing pain)
  • tenderness of the tooth
  • pain that spreads to your ear, jaw and neck on the same side as the affected area
  • gum tenderness and swelling
  • swelling of the face
  • a fever

Common Treatments

Regular analgesia should be the first option until a dentist can be seen for drainage. Antibiotics are reserved for worsening symptoms as they alone will not cure a dental abscess. If you are prescribed antibiotics then you will be required to see a dentist within 3 days for drainage of the abscess. 

Possible treatments we may prescribe if clinically appropriate:

*Prices shown are cost price of the medication, taken from the British National Formulary 2018, and are given as a guideline. Pharmacies will add a dispensing fee to this which will vary considerably, so it is worthwhile phoning around to compare prices. The medication is paid for at your chosen pharmacy. 

Please click on the medication above to read the Patient Information Leaflet for important information about each drug. We use national prescribing guidelines to select which treatment would be most appropriate for your condition. 

Types of dental abscess

There are two main types of dental abscesses:

Periapical abscess (in the tooth) 

  • This occurs in the dental pulp which is in the centre of the tooth. It usually starts with tooth decay breaking down the outer layers of the tooth (enamel and dentine), allowing bacteria to pass to the pulp causing an infection.

Periodontal abscess (in the gum)

  • This starts between the gum and the tooth and often is the result of gum disease. Gum disease can result in the gum separating from the tooth allowing bacteria in between the two.
How to prevent a dental abscess

A dental abscess can be avoided by maintaining good oral care to prevent dental decay and gum disease. This can include the use of:

  • regular tooth brushing twice a day for at least 2 minutes
  • flossing or using an interdental brush at least once a day to clean between your teeth and under the gumline
  • mouthwashes to reduce plaque build up
  • reducing sugar intake in food and drink
  • eating a healthy balanced diet
  • regular dental checkups at least yearly
  • avoid smoking

Plaque is made up of bacteria which produce acids that can damage your teeth. It can cause tooth decay or gum disease if not cleaned regularly by brushing. 

When to seek further medical advice

If your symptoms worsen or you develop any of the following symptoms, then it is important to seek medical advice urgently:

  • If you feel unwell and develop a persistent fever (high temperature) which can cause shivers.
  • If the pain becomes worse despite taking regular painkillers.
  • If you feel increasingly unwell (this may include nausea and vomiting).
  • Having difficulty opening your mouth, swallowing or breathing.
  • Having a spreading infection affecting your face.

Antibiotic Guardianship

Antibiotics should be used responsibly and only when really necessary. Overuse and misuse of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance. This is where the antibiotic becomes less effective at treating certain types of bacterial infection, so they do not work when needed. 

Antibiotics should be taken as prescribed, and it is important to complete the full course, this can reduce the chance of the bacteria developing an immunity to that antibiotic. It is important not to share antibiotics, and always take unused medication to your local pharmacy for disposal.

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