Is your tooth so painful that it throbs and keeps you up all night? When tooth pain interrupts your daily life, you might have an abscess tooth. When the pulp inside your tooth dies, it can form a pocket of pus and become prone to infection. This is the primary cause of a dental abscess.

Stop the spread of infection, see your Downtown Seattle dentist right away.

At Seattle Cornerstone Dental, our Downtown Seattle dentists understand how painful and stressful it is to have an abscess tooth. Our compassionate and highly-trained dentists are here for you and yes, an abscess tooth is a dental emergency.

We will do everything we can to restore your natural tooth and get you out of pain quickly.

The article is a guide for patients so you can be better informed about the care you receive.

Abscess Tooth Orthopantomogram

A panoramic X-ray of an abscess tooth in the lower right, first molar.

What is an abscess tooth?

Simply, an abscess tooth is a bacterial infection. Abscesses can occur in different areas of your tooth. Treatment typically involves draining the dental abscess, curing the cause of infection, and prescribing medicine to help with infection and inflammation.

This can sound intense and possibly frightening. However, nearly all of the pain is caused by the pus and inflammation rather than treatment or aftercare.

Different types of dental abscess

There are three common types of dental abscesses.

  • Periapical abscess
  • Periodontal abscess
  • Gingival abscess

Periapical abscesses occur at the tip of the root, while a periodontal abscess is located in the gum alongside the root. Periodontal abscess are more likely to spread to the surrounding bone and tissue than periapical ones. Lastly, Gingival abscesses appear on the gums of a patient.

Symptoms of an abscessed tooth:

The main symptom we are presented with is a severe, throbbing toothache feeling. Sometimes this pain is localized to a tooth or spot on the gum, and other times it may be “referral pain”. Referral pain means the pain has spread so far from the source, it is hard to pinpoint where it originates.

Pain typically comes on strong and gets worse over time. If you’re experiencing the pain above or the additional symptoms below – come get checked out immediately.

  • Pain that moves to your ear, jaw, or neck
  • Not being able to fall asleep due to pain
  • Sensitivity in your teeth
  • Facial swelling (potentially cellulitis)
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Foul odor and taste

Causes of an abscess tooth

If you have an untreated cavity or a cracked tooth, you may be susceptible to developing an abscess. When left untreated, bacteria will have an opportunity to move to the root of your tooth.

An abscess usually happens because of untreated dental cavities. Traumatic injury to the mouth or jaw (like a car accident) or previous dental work can also cause an abscess tooth.

Those at an increased risk of developing an abscess tooth include:

  • Patients with poor dental hygiene and tooth decay
  • Patients that suffer from gum disease
  • Patients that consume food and drink with high levels of sugar
  • Patients that regularly experience dry mouth from medications or aging


  • Daily brushing your teeth and flossing
  • Rinsing your mouth with a fluoride rinse
  • Eating less sugary foods such as soda and candy
  • Regular dental cleaning and check-ups
  • Replace toothbrush every 3-4 months

Additionally, it is possible the infection can spread into your jaw, head, and neck. If left untreated long enough, your abscess tooth can lead to sepsis (what is sepsis?). Sepsis is a severe, potentially fatal situation.

Go to the emergency room immediately if:

  • You experience high fever
  • You experience facial swelling
  • You have difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • You experience rapid heart beat or other unusual rhythms
  • You have a weakened immune system
  • You experience confusion or fainting

These are symptoms of a serious infection that needs medical attention immediately.

5 ways we can treat an abscess tooth

An abscess tooth can be treated in a variety of ways, depending on what is causing the pain and discomfort. The focus of treatment (regardless of the type of abscess) is curing the infection and relieving your pain.

During your consultation and based on your symptoms, we may check for an infection:

  • Visually
  • Physically by tapping on the tooth
  • By taking an X-ray
  • Performing a CT scan

If we determine you have a dental abscess and depending on the type of infection, treatment plans may include the following:

1. Drain the abscess

By making a small incision, we can drain the pus from the infection and clean the area with a saline rinse.

2. Root canal therapy

During a root canal, we will drain the abscess and remove any infected pulp. After thoroughly cleaning the affected tooth, we begin filling and sealing the pulp chamber and the root canal. Usually in a separate appointment, a crown will be placed to permanently protect your tooth.

3. Extraction

If your tooth is too decayed, we may recommend removing your tooth. We work to preserve your natural tooth, but occasionally due to complications, extraction is the only option feasible for the patient.

4. Antibiotics

If your infection spreads or when pain in the affected tooth is too severe, we prescribe antibiotics to clear the infection.

5. Foreign object removal

Some abscesses are caused by a foreign object becoming implanted in your gum. We will remove the object, drain the abscess, and clean the area with a saline solution to prevent future dental infections.

Remember, we’re devoted to saving your natural teeth. We understand this time can be stressful and the pain you are experiencing can complicate even simple activities. We are concerned about your health first, and giving you the highest quality of care and comfort is our top priority.

If you have an abscess tooth, don’t wait to get treatment. 

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600 University Street Suite 828 Seattle, WA 98101
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(206) 682-3093
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