A dental abscess is a build-up of pus in the teeth or gums caused by an infection. It needs urgent treatment by a dentist. A dental abscess will not go away on its own.
Check if you have a dental abscess
Signs of a dental abscess include:
- intense toothache or pain in your gums
- redness inside the mouth, or outside the mouth on the face or jaw
- sensitivity to hot or cold food and drink in the affected area
- a bad taste in your mouth
- difficulty opening your mouth and chewing food
- a swollen face or jaw
- a high temperature
Urgent advice: Ask for an urgent dentist appointment or get help from NHS 111 if:
- you think you have a dental abscess
Do not go to a GP surgery as they will not be able to give you dental treatment.
To see a dentist in an emergency or out of hours:
- call your dentist – if they're closed, their answerphone may tell you what to do
If you do not have a dentist or cannot get to an emergency appointment:
- call 111 or get help from 111 online – they can tell you where you can get help for your symptoms
- find a dentist near you – ask if you can have an emergency appointment
You may have to pay for your appointment. Find out more about NHS dental charges.
Immediate action required: Call 999 or go to A&E if:
- you are finding it hard to breathe
- have a swollen or painful eye, or suddenly start having problems with your eyesight
- have a lot of swelling in your mouth
How to ease the pain caused by a dental abscess
There are some things you can do to help with the pain until you can get dental treatment.
take painkillers, such as ibuprofen or paracetamol (children under 16 should not take aspirin)
eat soft foods like soup, scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes and yoghurt
use a soft toothbrush to clean your teeth
avoid having sugary, or very hot or cold, foods and drinks
Treatment for a dental abscess
Dental abscesses are usually treated by a dentist. The dentist will drain away the pus.
If a problem with your tooth has caused the abscess, you may need root canal treatment, or the tooth may be removed. You'll be given a local anaesthetic, so you do not feel any pain.
You may be offered painkillers to take for a few days after treatment and may also be given antibiotics.
Causes of a dental abscess
Dental abscesses usually happen when pus builds up beneath your teeth or gums when you have an infection in your mouth.
You may get a dental abscess if:
- you have a tooth that has not grown out of your gums properly (an impacted tooth)
- you have tooth decay or gum disease
- you have injured your teeth, gums or mouth
- you're having radiotherapy or chemotherapy
How to prevent dental abscesses
There are some things you can do to help prevent dental abscesses.
brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day - spit after brushing, do not rinse
clean in between your teeth every day using floss or interdental brushes
replace your toothbrush every 1 to 3 months
have regular dental check-ups so problems can be spotted early
do not use mouthwash straight after brushing your teeth
do not smoke
Page last reviewed: 20 June 2022
Next review due: 20 June 2025