What is a Gum Abscess?

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  • Written By: J.M. Willhite
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 05 March 2019
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The localized formation of pus in the gums of the mouth due to a bacterial infection is a serious condition referred to as a gum abscess. If left to progress, an abscess in the gum may lead to a potentially life-threatening condition resulting in asphyxiation. Individuals who experience a swelling, discomfort, or irritation of the gums should immediately seek medical attention.

A gum abscess may form for a variety of reasons. In some cases, bacteria may enter the tooth and underlying gum by way of an existing cavity. Other people may develop an abscess as a result of trauma to the affected area caused by embedded food or other residual substances. Individuals with a compromised immune system may be at an increased risk of developing an abscess due to their inability to effectively fight off infection. Those who have periodontal disease may also develop an abscess as a complication of bone loss.

The abscess itself is comprised of an accumulation of pus resulting from infection. Initially, the abscess may present as a blister on the gum. The most serious danger occurs when the abscess is unable to drain, which can lead to the spread of infection to other parts of the neck and head area. In most cases, the abscess will drain outwardly, alleviating pain and discomfort. Despite the relieved pressure, dental treatment is still necessary to remedy the underlying problem of infection and eliminate the origin of the abscess.


Increased tooth sensitivity is generally a precursory indicator of abscess formation. The individual may experience discomfort when eating, drinking, or chewing that progressively intensifies, resulting in an extremely painful toothache. Additional symptoms associated with a gum abscess include swelling and discomfort of the lymph nodes in the jaw and neck areas.

A diagnosis is generally confirmed upon a visual and physical examination conducted during a dental visit. Aside from applying pressure to the swollen area, the dentist will usually conduct a pulp test to evaluate the state of the tooth. An X-ray of the affected area may also be performed to assess whether any further damage to the root of the tooth has occurred.

Treatment for a gum abscess initially involves the draining of infection. Once the pus is removed, the focus turns to saving the tooth. In cases where the root of the tooth has been sufficiently damaged, a root canal is generally performed to remove the affected tissue. Antibiotics may be prescribed to ensure the elimination of infection and a warm salt water rinse may be recommended to assist with healing. Individuals who experience a persistent gum abscess may need to undergo a surgical procedure to have it permanently removed.

Early detection and appropriate treatment are essential to a good prognosis. If the abscess is allowed to progress, it can swell to the point of impairing the person's ability to open his or her mouth. In cases where the infected area swells dramatically, it may result in the narrowing of the individual's airway, making breathing difficult and possibly leading to asphyxiation.


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Many people don't realize just how important gum health actually is.

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