You are currently viewing How To Tell If You Have a Tooth Abscess: Symptoms of an Infected Tooth

[This original blog post is from February 19, 2019; It has been updated on September 27, 2023 for clarity]

Are you suffering from a debilitating toothache or wondering if you’re exhibiting symptoms of a tooth infection? Maybe you’ve noticed your gum or jaw are swollen or that your tooth changed color. Is it hard to open your mouth, or are you experiencing bad breath/sour taste in your mouth? It could be a serious tooth infection.

Your teeth are packed with nerves. That’s why toothache is excruciating, though it may only affect one part of your mouth. Moreover, the pain may sometimes be related to a deeper oral health issue.

Read this blog to discover 16 ways to tell if you live with an infected tooth. Remember to contact your dentist as soon as possible if you believe you have a tooth infection or abscess.


What is a Tooth Abscess?

A tooth abscess is a pocket of pus that can be located visibility on the surface of your gums/teeth, or beneath the surface. It is caused by a bacterial infection and needs to be treated as soon as possible. A tooth abscess will not go away on its own.

Untreated tooth infections and tooth abscesses can lead to life-threatening conditions, as it’s possible for the infection to spread to your blood and body, causing painful symptoms. Without treatment, you also risk losing the tooth.


Symptoms of a Tooth Abscess

Below are some tell-tale signs of a tooth infection or tooth abscess.

  • Extreme sensitivity to hot, cold, sugary, or acidic foods

  • Change in tooth color

  • Swelling of face, jaw, gums, or surrounding lymph nodes

  • Raised swelling around a tooth that may resemble a pimple

    • This pimple can be either a tooth abscess or a gum boil. Both are infection-filled bumps that contain pus and bacteria.
  • Bad breath or sour/metallic taste in your mouth

  • Draining or leaking sore on the gum or near the tooth

  • Difficulty moving jaw and opening mouth

    • You may struggle to speak, eat, or go about everyday activities.
  • Pulsating or throbbing mouth pain

    • As a tooth infection spreads, the swelling and bacteria put pressure on your jaw and gums, resulting in a throbbing sensation that is difficult to ignore.
  • The pain gets worse when you lie down

  • Headache

  • Fever

    • A fever is a surefire way to tell that your body is fighting off an infection.
  • Feeling sick

    • This can include bodily symptoms seemingly unrelated to tooth pain, such as body aches and flu-like symptoms.
  •  Insomnia

    • The severity of pain and discomfort may lead to sleep disturbances or insomnia.
  •  Increased heart rate

    • In some severe cases, a tooth infection might lead to an increased heart rate as the body responds to the infection.
  •  Increased salivation

    • You might experience an increase in saliva production as your body’s response to an infection.

Types of Tooth Infections & Abscesses

Periapical abscess: An abscess a the tip of your tooth’s root. It can be caused by a cracked tooth or cavity and spreads from the pulp inside of your tooth

Periodontal abscess: An abscess on your gum next to a tooth, caused by an infection that spreads to the bone and supporting tissues around your teeth.

Gingival abscess: An abscess resulting in an infection in your gums.

Causes of a Tooth Infection

  • Cavities and untreated decay

  • Poor oral hygiene

  • Excess of sugary or acidic foods

  • Broken or damaged dental work (ex., Fillings, crowns, root canals)

  • Weakened immune system

  • Mouth injury to teeth or gums

  • Smoking

  • Dry mouth

    • A dry mouth causes an increased breeding ground for bacteria.
  • Cracked or chipped tooth

  • Excess plaque

cracked and death tooth resulting in tooth abscess abington center for cosmetic and family dentistry scranton pa; tooth infection symptoms; how to tell if you have a tooth infection

How to Cure a Tooth Abscess

If you have signs and symptoms of a tooth infection, it is important to call your dentist as soon as possible. Dentists can help in a few ways, but remember that this infection will not go away alone- treatment is necessary.

If you notice the symptoms go away and you are no longer in pain, this does not mean the infection is gone. An infection can eventually kill the nerves that cause pain in your tooth, meaning you won’t feel it anymore. The infection is still present and can potentially spread to your body and damage the surrounding teeth and your gums.

  • Root Canal
    • A dentist or endodontist can perform a root canal, which is a procedure in which the infected pulp in your teeth is removed to prevent further infection.
  • Antibiotics
    • Your dentist may prescribe you antibiotics to help treat the infection. This can be a course of treatment before getting a root canal procedure. You may also be put on antibiotics after treatment to prevent the spread of further infection.
  • Tooth Extraction
    • If the tooth cannot be repaired, meaning the infection destroyed the tooth, roots, and pulp, your dentist might pull your tooth. After the infection is gone, it is recommended to get a dental implant to help prevent jaw deterioration due to lacking the support the tooth provides.
  • Drain the Abscess
    • A dentist can help get rid of an abscess by draining it. This often involves making a small incision or cutting your tooth to let the pus and infection out.


Bottom Line

A tooth infection or abscess will not go away on its own. If left untreated, it can spread to your body, causing flu-like symptoms. Your dentist can treat your infected tooth by draining the pus, tooth extraction, antibiotics, or a root canal.

A tooth infection’s symptoms include pain radiating to your jaw, ears, head, and lymph nodes. You can experience bad breath or a sour taste in your mouth. Your infection may be accompanied by a fever- your body’s way of trying to fight it off. You may also notice a pimple on your gum or tooth, which can leak pus and bacteria if it bursts. Eating or drinking hot and cold foods or opening your mouth may hurt.

Even if your pain disappears, this does not mean the infection did. A tooth infection can kill the nerves that cause tooth pain, spreading the infection further if left untreated.


  • Extreme sensitivity
  • Change in tooth color
  • Swelling
  • Raised swelling/Pimple on gum
  • Bad breath or sour/metallic taste in your mouth
  • Draining or leaking 
  • Difficulty moving jaw and opening mouth
  • Pulsating or throbbing mouth pain
  • The pain gets worse when you lie down
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Feeling sick
  • Earache
  • Insomnia
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased salivation

Emergency Dentist in Scranton, PA

Abington Center for Cosmetic & Family Dentistry is an experienced dentist near Scranton, PA. Dr. Charles Dennis is a licensed endodontist specializing in root canals and tooth infections. If you live in Clarks Summit or surrounding areas and believe you may have a tooth infection, contact our office using our contact form or call during business hours for an emergency dental appointment.