Abscessed Tooth In Children: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment And Prevention

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Abscessed tooth in children is characterized by the collection of pus inside the teeth, gums, or surrounding bone. It occurs as a result of bacterial infection. An abscess at the end of the tooth is called a periapical abscess, and an abscess within the gum is called a periodontal abscess.

A dental abscess is painful most times, but not always. It helps if you take your child to the dentist for timely treatment and management. Read this post to learn more about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment for dental abscesses in children.

Causes Of Tooth Abscess In Children

The dental abscess is caused due to bacteria inside the teeth. The bacteria can penetrate the teeth if they are cracked or have cavities. Cracks are caused due to dental trauma and cavities from poor oral hygiene (1).

Cavities lead to a periapical abscess. When the dental decay reaches the center of the tooth, it damages the tooth nerve, and the infection collects at the tip of the tooth root to form an abscess.

The bacteria present in the plaque can cause gum irritation, gum swelling, gum disease and periodontal infection. Periodontal space is present between the gums and teeth. Bacteria can collect in this space and may form abscesses (2).

Signs And Symptoms Of Tooth Abscess In Children

The following are the signs and symptoms of tooth abscess in children (1) (3).

  • Sharp or throbbing pain in the affected tooth or gum
  • Teeth are sensitive to hot or cold food or drinks, and pressure
  • Red discoloration on the gums
  • Swollen gums
  • Ear pain on the same side of the affected tooth
  • Pain worsens on lying down and might cause sleep disturbance
  • Appearance of a boil or a pimple
  • Pus discharge from the gum
  • Swollen jaw
  • Swollen lymph nodes (4)
  • Swollen neck
  • Fever
  • Bitter taste in the mouth
  • Bad breath

In severe cases, one may experience difficulties opening the mouth or problems with swallowing or breathing.

Risks And Complications Of Tooth Abscess

Untreated dental abscesses may lead to the following complications (5).

  • Loss of tooth
  • Blood infection
  • Spread of infection to adjacent soft tissues
  • Spread of infection to the jaw bone
  • Spread of infection to the other areas of the body, therefore causing brain abscess, heart inflammation, pneumonia, etc.

Signs You Need To See A Doctor

Contact the pediatric dentist if you notice any of these symptoms (1).

  • Fever
  • Pain and swelling on your child’s neck or face.
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Persistent redness or swelling
  • Pain that gets worse
  • Pus or foul-smelling discharge from the mouth

Diagnosing Dental Abscess In Children

The dentist will thoroughly examine the tooth and the surrounding structures. The diagnosis includes tapping on the tooth using the blunt end of the mouth mirror. Pain on tapping or closely biting the teeth can indicate a dental abscess. The mobility of the teeth or the presence of cracks in the tooth are also checked. Dental caries is also evaluated in the teeth around the abscess.

Dental x-rays help the dentist determine the tooth causing the problem and gauge the infection (5).

Treatment For Dental Abscess In Children

Removing the source of infection and draining away the pus is important for treating a dental abscess. The following are the possible treatments based on the location and the severity of the infection (3) (5) (6).

  • OTC pain killers

OTC painkillers may help in providing some relief from toothache and fever.

  • Antibiotics

Antibiotic therapy helps reduce the severity of dental infections. However, not all cases of dental abscess need antibiotics. Ensure completion of the entire course of antibiotics for your child upon prescription.

  • Root canal treatment

Root canal therapy is one of the most commonly used dental procedures to treat tooth abscesses. The infected dental pulp and abscess are removed from the tooth root before filling and sealing it.

  • Removal of the affected tooth

Tooth extraction might be recommended for severely infected teeth that cannot be saved by root canal treatment.

  • Incision and drainage

A small cut is made on the gum to drain the pus/abscess. It might relieve the swelling. However, this is only a temporary solution, and further treatment is suggested.

For severe dental infections, hospitalization may be needed. however, more extensive surgical procedures are rarely required and may be performed under general anesthesia (3).

Home Remedies For Tooth Abscess In Children

The following measures may help your child get some relief from an abscessed tooth (1).

  • Local application of ice packs for up to 20min multiple times a day can help reduce pain and swelling.
  • Avoid using ointments or medicines internally or externally over the abscess without the doctor’s consent.
  • Warm salt water rinses offer relief by reducing irritation, gum swelling, and pain.

Prevention Of Dental Abscess

Dental abscesses can be prevented by taking measures to keep your teeth and gums healthy. The following tips can help your child prevent dental abscesses (3).

  • Ensure your child maintains proper oral hygiene to prevent cavities. Have your child brush their teeth twice a day with a fluoridated toothpaste and soft-bristle toothbrush.
  • Flossing the areas between the teeth can prevent plaque formation and gum diseases.
  • Take your child to the dentist regularly
  • Avoid giving excessive sugary food and drinks.
  • Offer a balanced diet with all vegetables and fruits.
  • Give a child-friendly mouth wash.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is a dental abscess an emergency?

A dental abscess that causes unbearable pain can require immediate treatment. Dental abscess-related emergency visits are common, and the incision and drainage may be treated in an emergency room with follow-up care (7).

2. Are dental abscesses common in children?

Although not all children may experience dental abscesses, it is fairly common and needs prompt medical attention (2).

3. Can I pop a tooth abscess with a needle?

Do not pop a tooth abscess or press against it, as you may complicate it further. Instead, visit a doctor who will drain an abscess appropriately (8).

A dental abscess does not heal by itself and needs medical attention. The symptoms might sometimes improve, but a thorough dental evaluation is still necessary. Undergoing dental treatment and regular check-ups improves the lifespan of the teeth. Do not ignore your child’s symptoms of a dental abscess and seek an expert’s opinion.


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Dr. Ashveeta Shetty

( MDS)
Dr. Ashveeta Shetty is an assistant professor at DY Patil School of Dentistry and also runs her own dental clinic in Mumbai. Having done her Master of Dental Surgery (MDS) in Pedodontics and Preventive Dentistry from Terna Dental College, she is currently pursuing her PhD. She has several national and international publications to her credit.    Dr. Shetty believes in... more

Dr. Ritika Shah

Dr. Ritika Shah is a dental surgeon with more than seven years of clinical experience across various cities in India. During her clinical practice, pediatric dentistry was her particular area of interest, and she constantly thrived to inculcate the latest advancements in the field of dentistry into her practice. She also holds a certificate in lactation counselling from iNational Health... more