Should I Go to the Emergency Room for a Tooth Abscess?

Toothaches can be horrible. But, is your toothache a simple pain? Or, is it something more? If your toothache is so severe that you’re thinking whether you should go to the emergency room, you may have a tooth abscess.

What Is a Tooth Abscess?

A tooth abscess is a painful pocket of pus in or around your tooth. It’s your body’s immune response to an infection. The pus is usually thick, white, or yellowish in color. 

There are two different types of tooth abscess:

  • Periapical: When the pocket of pus forms at the tip of your root.
  • Periodontal: When the pocket of pus forms by your gum line.

The signs and symptoms that indicate you have a tooth abscess are:

  • Severe, persistent, throbbing, and radiating toothache
  • Temperature sensitivity
  • Sensitivity to the pressure of chewing or biting
  • Fever
  • Swelling in your face or cheek
  • Tender, swollen lymph nodes under your jaw or in your neck
  • Sudden rush of foul-smelling and foul-tasting, salty fluid in your mouth and pain relief, if the abscess ruptures
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing

What Causes Tooth Abscess?

A tooth abscess is a result of a dental infection. Bacteria can enter the inside of your gum through an untreated cavity or cracked tooth.

As the bacteria invades your dental pulp (the inside of your tooth where nerves are located), the body’s naturally immune response is to fight the infection with inflammation. This can cause a significant amount of pain, and pus to build up.

Certain factors increase the risk of developing a tooth abscess:

  • Bad dental hygiene: If you don’t commit to a daily oral hygiene routine, the likelihood of you developing a cavity is much higher. Plaque and tartar build up on your teeth and eat through them. This is called tooth decay.
  • Eating lots of sugar: Sugar feeds the bacteria found in plaque, which can lead to cavities.
  • Dry mouth: Without saliva to wash the plaque away, your teeth are more vulnerable to the effects of plaque.
  • Avoiding the dentist: Anyone can get cavities. However, untreated cavities are how tooth abscess forms. Visit the dentist for regular checkups and cleans to identify problem areas before an infection happens.

The Dangers of a Tooth Abscess

Pain isn’t the only worry you have when you have an abscessed tooth. Untreated infections spread quickly in the body. And it can have deadly consequences.

If the infection makes its way into your bloodstream, you can develop septicemia. An infection in your upper teeth can also spread to soft tissue, such as your brain.

You can have many different kinds of symptoms when a tooth abscess spreads. From feeling pain behind your eyes to experiencing stroke or heart attack, the dangers of a tooth abscess can quickly turn lethal.

It’s best to find treatment for an abscessed tooth as soon as possible.

When Should I Go to the Emergency Room for a Tooth Abscess?

A tooth abscess is always an emergency.

If you think you have a tooth abscess, you should go to the emergency room as soon as you can. Getting medical attention is crucial because you don’t know how fast the infection can spread.

It’s best to avoid all risk from this infection. That’s why you should go to the ER or emergency dentist as soon as possible.

At the emergency room, the goal of your doctor is to stop the infection and relieve your pain. As a result, they probably prescribed antibiotics after evaluating your condition.

They usually don’t drain the pus for you in an emergency room. However, a dentist or an emergency dental clinic can.

Still, it’s important to note that you should never attempt to drain a tooth abscess by yourself.

You’ll only risk further infection. Instead, it’s crucial to see a medical professional first. And if they think that draining the abscess is the ideal solution, they’ll do it in a sterile environment.

Should I Go to the Emergency Room or the Dentist with Tooth Abscess?

While it’s clear that you need medical attention immediately, you need to know where to go.

A tooth abscess is a severe condition, and they’ll treat you for the infection and the underlying health problem at the ER. Plus, they’ll probably prescribe you an antibiotic treatment. And they’ll charge you for your visit through your health insurance, not your dental insurance.

However, if the ER isn’t an option, you’ll probably have to book an appointment at the dentist. And if your tooth abscess is life-threatening, you’ll need to go to an emergency dental clinic.

The dentist then can address the underlying dental issue that caused the infection. They’ll treat you, whether it’s a cavity, a tooth crack, or something else.

What to Do If You Have an Abscessed Tooth

An abscessed tooth is a dental emergency. You should take the situation seriously, but remain calm about your options.

You can also take over-the-counter pain medication to relieve the pain.

Next, search for an emergency dental clinic near you. If you can’t find one that’s open, visit the emergency room. They’ll prescribe you antibiotics there.

Finally, book an appointment or visit your dentist. Your dentist will drain the pus and treat you for the underlying issue as well.

Save Money When You Visit the Dentist for a Tooth Abscess

You should definitely go to the emergency room if you have a tooth abscess. But, you shouldn’t pay full price for the dental treatment that leads to your recovery.

With a Carefree Dental Card, you can access significant savings at participating dentists. As a member, you can get 15-50%* discount per visit in most instances. And it only costs $15.95/month for individuals and $19.95/month for families.

Don’t let your dental bill become a pain in the tooth, sign up for Carefree Dental today!


* Actual costs and savings vary by provider, service and geographical area. 

The Carefree Dental blog is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The text and pictures within the content are intended for information purposes only. Readers should consult with a licensed dentist or healthcare professional before seeking treatment.

The Carefree Dental Card is not insurance and Carefree Dental is not an insurance provider.

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