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Tooth infection

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger HendersonReviewed on 29.04.2024 | 3 minutes read

A tooth infection, otherwise known as a dental abscess, describes a collection of pus in one area. It's usually around a tooth, but may affect the gum or jaw bone. It's caused by a bacterial infection.

You’re likely to get persistent throbbing in your tooth or gum, with pain spreading to the ear on that side. You might get redness and swelling of the face, and red gums if you look inside your mouth. It may be painful to chew food, difficult to take hot or cold drinks, and you (or others) might notice bad breath, toothache or swelling.

In severe infections, the infection can spread to other parts of the body making you feel generally unwell and feverish.

Dental abscesses usually require antibiotic treatment. It is also best to take simple painkillers, avoid hot or cold foods and drinks as your mouth may be quite sensitive, try softer foods and lots of fluids to prevent dehydration.

It is important to visit your dentist regularly to ensure you are maintaining good oral hygiene and follow their advice to maintain healthy teeth and gums at home.

How did I get an infection?

Dental abscesses form when bacteria build up in the mouth. This can be caused by poor oral hygiene, such as bad breath, which is why it is important to floss and brush your teeth regularly.

Bacteria feed on sugars, so you may be putting your teeth and gums at higher risk if you're eating lots of sugary or starchy food and drinks. It can also affect those with poorly controlled diabetes.

You're at higher risk of any infection, including those in the mouth, if you are immunocompromised either from certain medical conditions or medications.

When to see your dentist?

It’s important to note that you should not contact your doctor for tooth problems – in the UK, doctors cannot prescribe antibiotics for teeth or gum problems, or perform any mouth surgery such as abscess drainage, tooth removal or root canal surgery. And these may be the treatments you require in this case to treat the problem and recover.

You should contact your own dentist or an emergency dentist if you think you have a tooth abscess. They will you and advise on the next step. Some are registered as NHS dentists, but dental treatment is not always free. While waiting for this appointment, take painkillers.

If you feel very unwell with a fever and you can’t contact your dentist, call 111 or attend your nearest Emergency Department.

Am I fit for work?

Aside from the pain, which can be too distracting to let you get on with work, you can be quite unwell with a dental abscess and it may spread if not appropriately treated. It's best to take time off work to get the treatment you need and recover.

Healthwords Pharmacist tips

The pain is often the worst symptom for people, and this can be managed with some simple painkillers, whilst you wait to see your dentist. Ibuprofen is best for this type of pain, or paracetamol could be used as a second option. You can also use antibacterial mouthwashes like chlorhexidine to prevent further build-up of bacteria.

Ensuring that you pay good attention to your oral hygiene is an important way of preventing dental infections. This can be done by brushing your teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and by using a good interdental brush or dental floss to clean underneath the gum line.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 29.04.2024
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