I think I’ve got an abscess in my mouth! What do I do now?

27th February 2019 | Posted by: Vanessa Giraud

Coronavirus (Covid-19) update – March 2020

  • During lockdown regular dental care is restricted. Please read the tips below about what you can do until you’re able to visit the dentist.
  • If your face is swollen, or you’re in pain, you may reach for medication to reduce it. However, because of the continuing spread of coronavirus, current thinking advises against the non-prescribed use of anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen, as it may suppress the immune system. If possible, use the correct dosage of paracetamol instead.
  • Whichever pain medication you take, do not exceed the recommended dose.

Have you woken up to throbbing pain and a swollen face? Or have you got a raised lump on your gum that hurts. Perhaps you feel like you’ve got a temperature too? During lockdown, while you’re staying at home, developing an abscess is hard. You may be able to reduce the pain temporarily, but infection can spread. Be especially careful of infection if you have other issues, such as a heart condition or diabetes. Check NHS 111 online to find out where the nearest emergency dental facility is. An abscess is a condition that needs treatment. It’s likely that a health professional will prescribe antibiotics for you until a dental appointment is available.

main in chair for abscess in your mouth, with dental professional in blue

How do I know if it is an abscess in my mouth?

If you’re experiencing throbbing pain in your mouth, and there’s swelling, then the chances are you have an abscess in your mouth. An oral abscess is a pocket of pus caused by bacterial infection. It’s painful and needs treatment.

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What do I do now?

The first thing to do is get professional help. An abscess won’t go away without treatment. During the practice’s opening hours, your dentist should be able to fit you in for an emergency appointment the same day, but call early as the spaces soon fill up. Practices usually have special arrangements too for patients who need treatment out of hours. If you subscribe to a monthly payment plan with your dental practice, that usually covers emergency call-out charges too. Even out of hours, it’s a good idea to call your own practice, as the answer phone will offer helpful information. Remember – if you have swelling that is continuing to increase and threatens your breathing, treat it as a dental emergency. Because an abscess is a bacterial infection, it’s important to get it seen as soon as possible so that treatment can begin. Don’t be tempted to delay, take a few pain-killers, and hope it’ll go away.

Why do abscesses happen?

There are several reasons why you may have got an abscess in your mouth. Most often it’s a sign your oral care isn’t meeting your needs. There’s no need to feel embarrassed about that, as people need different levels of oral hygiene according to the condition of their dental enamel and their general health. That said, we should all maintain a minimum regime of brushing for two minutes last thing at night, and at one other time during the day, as well as a daily floss. Because an abscess occurs when bacteria penetrate the pulp of a tooth (periapical abscess) or colonise the margins between the tooth and gum (periodontal abscess):

What will my dentist do next?

abscess in my mouth treated according to this diagram of four stages of endodontic treatment

Root canal therapy can often save an infected tooth.

Your dentist will clear the infection by draining the abscess, and may prescribe a course of appropriate antibiotics. Moving forward, sometimes the tooth can be saved with root canal therapy. In some cases, however, removing the tooth is the only safe option.

As everyone has individual dental needs, your dentist is the best person to assess the condition of your teeth and gums, plan your treatment, and restore your oral health.

Why are dental checks important?

Surprisingly, knowing how painful an abscess can be, in some cases it is possible to be unaware that you have a dental abscess. Sometimes an abscess is only spotted by a dentist in an x-ray. Left untreated the abscess can go on to cause further infections. Regular visits to the dentist will help you to maintain optimum oral health. During every check up, your dentist will do a systematic review of your mouth, looking for any signs of dental decay, gum disease or ulcerations. Check-ups are the way to keep dentally fit with individually tailored and monitored care.

How do I stop an abscess happening again?

To prevent another dental abscess, it’s important to review your oral hygiene practices. Your dentist and dental hygienist can help put you back on track to improved oral health. Many dental practices offer patients the opportunity to pay for regular check-ups and hygiene appointments on a monthly basis. It’s worth finding out how to become a plan patient as many people, especially those who avoid dentists, find that if they make the financial investment they are more likely to attend regular appointments.

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Updated: 2nd August 2020

We are receiving a lot of calls and messages now, and are doing our best to follow up and reply to your questions as soon as we can.

Thank you for your understanding.

During our phased return to in-person service:

Not all of our dental services are available immediately, therefore patient needs are assessed before an in-person booking is made.

Access our free remote advice and triage service:

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If you have any questions about your oral health or our services, please don’t hesitate to get in touch using the contact button above, email, or by phone during normal working hours.