Do I Have an Abscessed Tooth?

Reviewed by Michael Friedman, DDS on June 17, 2019

An abscessed tooth happens when a tooth’s root gets infected with bacteria and pus builds up around it. It’s also called a periapical abscess.


In some cases, the area around the tooth hurts, but not always. If it does, it’s usually a sharp, throbbing pain, especially when you put pressure on your tooth. It might also spread to your jaw or other parts of your face on the side that’s affected.

You also might:

  • Be sensitive to hot or cold temperatures
  • Have puffy gums
  • Notice a bad-smelling odor when you chew with that tooth

If you have swelling in your face and a fever, or you have trouble breathing or swallowing, go to the emergency room. The infection may have spread to other parts of your body.


This kind of infection usually happens if a cavity doesn’t get filled or a tooth is injured. Bacteria can get in through the cavity or a chip or crack in a tooth and spread to the root.

You’re more likely to have these kinds of issues if you don’t brush your teeth at least twice a day or there’s a lot of sugar in your diet. Sugary foods and drinks help bacteria grow, and that can lead to cavities and other problems.


An abscessed tooth won’t go away on its own. See your dentist right away if you have signs of one. It’s important to treat it because there’s a chance it could spread to your jaw or other parts of your head or neck. This is especially true if your immune system is weak because of a health condition, like HIV or AIDS. Certain medications, including some cancer treatments, can also make it harder for your body to fight off infections.

To find out if you have an abscessed tooth, your dentist probably will:

  • Tap on your teeth. If you have an abscess, it’ll hurt when they touch the affected tooth.
  • Take an X-ray. This can tell your dentist if you have an abscess and if it has spread to other parts of your mouth.
WebMD Medical Reference



Mayo Clinic: Tooth Abscess: “Overview,” “Symptoms and Causes,” “Diagnosis.”

NHS Choices: “Dental Abscess.”

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