An abscessed tooth is a common term used to describe a condition wherein a festering infection within the tooth reaches the root tip (periapical abscess) or contaminates the surrounding bone tissue (periodontal abscess).
This infection can even spread between the gum tissues and the root of the tooth and usually manifests itself in the form of a pus pocket around the root.
What Causes an Abscessed Tooth?
- The inner chamber of tooth is made up of soft “pulp” comprising nerves, connective tissue, and blood vessels. When the pulp starts getting infected by bacteria, which multiply and invade the tooth through a dental cavity, chip, or crack and eventually spread all the way down to the root tip. What follows is unabating pain, inflammation, and pockets of pus.
- In most cases, an abscessed tooth is caused by severe tooth decay or gum disease (gingivitis). Untreated tooth decay often chips away the protective enamel of the teeth that keep the bacteria out. A cracked enamel paves the way for bacteria to enter the pulp and progressively infect the entire tooth.
- In addition, poor dental hygiene and a diet high in sugar, carbohydrates, and sticky food increase your risk of developing this problem.
- A person who’s had dental work done previously is at an increased risk.
- Tooth trauma or undue grinding or clenching of the teeth can also predispose you to develop this condition.
Signs and Symptoms of an Abscessed Tooth
A throbbing and sharp toothache is the foremost symptom of an abscessed tooth, and it often reaches excruciating levels if left untreated.
At times, as a result of infection, the pulp in the root of the tooth dies, thus decreasing the pain. This, however, does not mean that the infection has healed as it will still continue to spread and destroy the tissue.
Other signs and symptoms include:
- Pain when chewing food
- Increased sensitivity to hot or cold food and drink
- Change in taste senses
- Bad breath
- Swelling in your cheek
- Red and sore gums
- Difficulty opening your mouth
- Difficulty swallowing food
- Swollen lymph nodes under your jaw
- Fever and general discomfort(1)
Natural Treatment Options for an Abscessed Tooth
Here are the top 10 home remedies to deal with tooth abscess.
1. Garlic can Help Prevent Infection
Garlic is as good for your oral health as it is bad for your breath. It has anti-inflammatory and natural antibiotic properties that make it highly effective for treating an abscessed tooth.
A 2013 study published in AYU (a quarterly journal of research in Ayurveda) provides evidence that garlic inhibits the growth of periodontal pathogens and can be used as a therapeutic agent for oral infections.(3)
Garlic owes its disease-fighting properties to allicin, an oily compound that is released when garlic is crushed and helps relieve pain and prevent the spread of the infection.
- Put a fresh garlic clove in your mouth and crush it with your teeth. Chew it until the pain subsides. Spit it out and rinse your mouth with warm water. To reduce the residual odor, you can add a few drops of clove oil to the warm water.
- Another option is to mix a ½ teaspoon of garlic powder with a pinch of table salt and apply the mixture directly on the affected tooth. Allow it to sit for 10 minutes, and then rinse your mouth with mouthwash.
- You can also rub garlic oil on the affected tooth.
Repeat any of these remedies three or four times a day for a few weeks.
2. Try Oil Pulling Technique
Oil pulling, an ancient Ayurvedic practice, can also be used to treat an abscessed tooth and a number of other oral problems such as bleeding and painful gums and bad breath.
It also curbs mouth bacteria. It helps expel toxins from the mouth and, in fact, the entire body, which promotes both oral and overall health.(4)
A 2017 study published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine found that oil pulling can be good for your dental well-being when practiced correctly and regularly and can, thus, safely be used as a complementary method for maintaining and improving oral hygiene and health.(5)
- Put 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin coconut oil in your mouth.
- Swish the oil inside your mouth for at least 15 minutes. Do not swallow it.
- After 15 minutes, spit it out and rinse your mouth with warm water.
- Repeat the process twice daily for about a month for positive results.
3. Use Clove to Ease Pain
Clove is one of the best remedies for any kind of dental issue, including an abscessed tooth.
It also acts as a mild anesthetic, which works by temporarily numbing the affected area.
- Dip a cotton ball in clove oil and hold it on the painful area for a few minutes.
- Another option is to place a whole clove between your infected tooth and your cheek. Chew it from time to time to release its juice. Allow the juice to remain in your mouth for at least 30 minutes. Then, rinse your mouth with warm water.
4. Baking Soda Solution
Baking soda is another cheap and convenient alternative for treating your tooth abscess, and is readily available in the grocery store if it’s not already part of your kitchen cabinet.
- Mix ½ tablespoon of baking soda with ½ cup of water and a pinch of salt.
- Swish the mixture in your mouth for up to 5 minutes.
- Spit it out and repeat until you have finished the mixture.
You can repeat this up to two times per day.
5. Hydrogen Peroxide is Worth a Try
Hydrogen peroxide has disinfectant and antibacterial properties that help kill the bacteria responsible for the abscessed tooth.
It also helps reduce inflammation and pain and get rid of yellow teeth.
A 2016 study published in the Journal of International Society of Preventive & Community Dentistry found that H2O2 concentration higher than 0.1% has been shown to possess a wide spectrum of antimicrobial activity. Mouthwashes containing H2O2 significantly reduced the gingival index and enhanced wound healing following gingival surgery.(9)
- Mix 2 teaspoons of hydrogen peroxide with 1 tablespoon of warm water. Use this solution to rinse your mouth and spit it out completely. Follow this remedy three times a week.
- Mix 1 teaspoon of baking soda with enough hydrogen peroxide (about 1/2 teaspoon) to make a paste. Apply this paste on the affected area for a couple of minutes and then rinse your mouth thoroughly with warm water. Follow this remedy a few times a week.
6. Apple Cider Vinegar can be Beneficial
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is another very effective home remedy for an abscessed tooth. It has anti-inflammatory and disinfectant properties that help reduce pain and inflammation while disinfecting the affected area.(10)
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Prosthodontics found that ACV possesses antifungal properties against Candida spp. thus representing a possible therapeutic alternative for patients with denture stomatitis.(11)
- Swish 1 tablespoon of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar in your mouth for a few minutes. Spit it out completely, being sure not to swallow it. Rinse your mouth with warm water. Repeat this process a few times a day.
- Another option is to mix 1 teaspoon of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar in 1 glass of water and drink it twice daily.
7. Reduce Discomfort with Salt Water
Salt has antiseptic and antibacterial properties that can help reduce inflammation, ease the pain, and prevent the growth of bacteria in the mouth.
A 2016 study published in PLOS One suggested that rinsing the mouth with sodium chloride (NaCl) promotes healthy gum and improves oral ulcer healing.(12)
- Add 1 teaspoon of salt or refined salt to 1 glass of lukewarm water. Mix it until the salt dissolves completely.
- Rinse your mouth with this solution two to three times a day to eliminate the infection and reduce discomfort and pain.
8. Trust the Healing Potential of Turmeric
- Mix 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder with a little water to make a paste. After brushing your teeth, apply the paste directly on the affected area. Allow it to sit for 15 to 20 minutes, and then rinse it off with warm water.
- You can also mix 1 teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of turmeric powder in 1 glass of lukewarm water. Use this mixture to rinse your mouth a few times daily.
- Another option is to mix ¼ teaspoon of turmeric powder with 1 teaspoon of olive or mustard oil. Apply this mixture on the affected area. Allow it to sit for 15 minutes before rinsing your mouth with warm water.
Repeat any of these remedies a couple of times daily.
9. Oregano Oil can Give You Easy Relief
Oregano oil contains antibacterial and antioxidant properties, making it a good remedial ingredient for an abscessed tooth. It also boosts immunity, helping the body fight tooth infections and speeding up the healing process.(14)(15)
- Apply a few drops of oregano oil directly on the affected tooth and gums and leave it for at least 15 minutes.
- Prepare a mouthwash by mixing 3 to 5 drops of oregano oil in ¼ cup of warm water. Swish this solution in your mouth for about 10 minutes, and then spit it out completely.
Repeat either of these remedies three or four times a day.
10. Reap the Benefits of Peppermint
Peppermint works like a miracle when it comes to pain due to an abscessed tooth.
It has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce inflammation and prevent the spread of infection. It also helps that peppermint leaves your breath smelling minty fresh.
A 2013 study published in the European Journal of Dentistry found that peppermint oil can act as an effective intracanal antiseptic solution against oral pathogens.(16)
- Rub a few drops of peppermint oil on the affected area using your fingertips for a couple of minutes.
- Also, extract fresh peppermint juice from the leaves and apply it on the affected tooth.
Follow either of these remedies a few times daily.
Preventing an Abscessed Tooth
- Switch from regular water to fluoridated water.
- Maintain good oral hygiene by brushing your teeth two times a day using a fluoride toothpaste.
- Incorporate flossing in your dental hygiene ritual in order to reach the inaccessible spots between the gums and teeth.
- Discard your toothbrush as soon as its bristles look frayed, and it’s advisable to change your toothbrush every two months regardless.
- Make regular visits to your dentist for oral checkups and cleaning.
- Include a fluoride mouth rinse in your oral regime for added protection.
- Visit your dentist promptly if you have a cracked or loose tooth.
- Avoid sugary foods and carbonated drinks as much as possible, and rinse your mouth thoroughly after consuming either of them.
- Abstain from snacking between meals.
When to See a Doctor
If you notice signs of an abscessed tooth, consult a dentist as soon as possible because it will not get better on its own. If left untreated, the infection may spread to the bone that supports the tooth and may result in severe life-threatening complications.
A 2007 study published in Dental Traumatology found that, although rarely, oral bacteria may cause systemic infections such as endocarditis and then indirectly initiate fatal brain abscess.(2)
Even if the abscess ruptures and there is a significant reduction in pain, you will still need dental treatment.
As an adjunct treatment, you can also try some natural home remedies to help fight the infection and alleviate symptoms.
- Apply a cold compress on your cheek near the aching tooth for a few minutes to get pain relief.
- Drink a ½ glass of wheatgrass juice daily on an empty stomach to get relief from the discomfort arising from an abscessed tooth.
- Stop using tobacco and quit smoking.
- Avoid chewing too much gum.
- When suffering from tooth pain or infection, avoid caffeine.
- Follow a healthy diet.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Dr. Anirudha Agnihotry, DDS (Dentist)
Is tooth abscess a fatal condition?
Yes, tooth abscess can become fatal if not taken care of. The infected purulent discharge or pus tries to find the least resistant path and may find its way in between the muscles and soft tissue, which may eventually get into the blood causing infection of the blood, and eventually death due to complications.
What are the side effects of an untreated case of a tooth abscess?
If a tooth abscess is untreated, it is most likely to cause swelling and discomfort often associated with pain which could or could not find its way in the mouth as a purulent discharge or pus containing dead bacteria and dead cells from the body. This tastes bad and has a bad odor. Over time, the infection may get worse and turn fatal if left untreated.
Is it advisable to pop a tooth abscess?
It is advisable to pop a tooth abscess by a health care provider in proper septic conditions, if the swelling is too big and the tooth cannot be treated at once. Sometimes, the pressure mounting from the pus makes the abscess burst by itself.
How long does it usually take for a tooth abscess to completely heal?
A tooth abscess never heals by itself. We have to treat the offending tooth and remove the infection. If a root canal therapy is required, it should be performed or if the tooth needs to be extracted, it should be extracted. After the intervention to remove the infection, the body heals in the natural capacity which could vary from a day to a week’s time.
Is salt water rinse effective in treating tooth abscess?
No, salt water will not help in treating the tooth abscess, it will just help relief the discomfort from the inflammation caused due to the infection. It surely helps, but does not take the infection away.
What are the signs that a tooth infection has spread?
An abscess starts with a toothache. The pain gets worse and you may get a little bump which may grow bigger and cause more pain if it is not addressed. Sometimes, the swelling quickly gets big and sometimes it progresses slowly.
After a while, the swelling sometimes bursts by itself and you get a bad taste and odor in the mouth. It is advised to go to your dental appointments regularly and maintain good oral hygiene to catch any cavities before they get big and become an abscess.
About Dr. Anirudha Agnihotry, DDS: Dr. Agnihotry graduated from Manipal College of Dental Sciences with a Bachelor’s in Dental Surgery (BDS) Degree in 2012. He joined as a faculty in Operative Dentistry and Endodontics Department in Mahatma Gandhi Dental College, where he also maintained a faculty practice.
In 2014, Dr. Agnihotry moved to the U.S. and completed his post-graduate certificate training in Restorative Dentistry and worked as a Researcher in the same department, following that at UCLA. He enrolled for the Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) Degree, soon after that. Dr. Agnihotry has published 15 international scientific research papers, presented in international conferences and is also a referee for 5 international scientific journals, and is on the Editorial Board of Brazilian Dental Journal.
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