Abscessed Tooth: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

Picture of an abscessed tooth

An abscessed tooth is a tooth that has a pocket of pus in the tissues around it. Pus forms when the body tries to fight an infection caused by bacteria. If the pus cannot drain, it forms an abscess. An abscessed tooth can cause red, swollen gums and throbbing pain, especially when you chew. You may have a bad taste in your mouth and a fever, and your jaw may swell.

Damage to the tooth, untreated tooth decay, or gum disease can cause an abscessed tooth.

An abscessed tooth needs to be treated by a dental professional right away. If it is not treated, the infection could spread to other parts of your body. Your dentist will give you antibiotics to stop the infection. He or she may make a hole in the tooth or cut open (lance) the abscess inside your mouth so that the infection can drain, which should relieve your pain. You may need to have a root canal treatment, which tries to save your tooth by taking out the infected pulp and replacing it with a healing medicine and/or a filling. If these treatments do not work, your tooth may have to be removed.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It’s also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Reduce pain and swelling in your face and jaw by putting ice or a cold pack on the outside of your cheek for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
  • Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • Take your antibiotics as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.

To prevent tooth abscess

  • Brush and floss every day, and have regular dental checkups.
  • Eat a healthy diet, and avoid sugary foods and drinks.
  • Do not smoke or use spit tobacco. Tobacco use slows your ability to heal. It also increases your risk for gum disease and cancer of the mouth and throat. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have trouble breathing.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You are dizzy or light-headed, or you feel like you may faint.
  • You have a new or higher fever.
  • You have swelling, redness, or pain that spreads or gets worse.
  • You have pus coming from the tooth area.
  • You develop a rash.
  • You have an earache or pain behind your ear.
  • You have a fever with a stiff neck or a severe headache.
  • You are sensitive to light or feel very sleepy or confused.
  • You have changes in your vision.
  • You have a severe toothache that has not improved after an hour or two of home treatment.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/ed

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Current as of: August 9, 2016