Ouch! How to Recognize an Abscessed Tooth in Children

An abscessed tooth is a painful bacterial infection that can form inside the teeth, gum or jawbone. Damage to the tooth, untreated tooth decay, or gum disease can cause an abscessed tooth. These painful infections don’t heal on their own, so if your child has an abscessed tooth, they need treatment right away. Here are five ways to recognize an abscessed tooth in your child, along with what to do before and after treatment. 

An abscessed tooth in children will often present with these symptoms: 

  1. Intense pain in the tooth and/or gum. The pain may come on rather quickly, and continue to worsen, possibly spreading to their ear, jaw and neck. It is common for children with a tooth abscess to have a fever. 
  2. Your child’s face may look red and swollen and be tender to the touch. When looking in their mouth, you may see that their gums are red, shiny and swollen. 
  3. The infected tooth may become loose. 
  4. Your child may complain of a foul taste in their mouth and/or have bad breath. 
  5. Eating or drinking may be painful. 

If you notice that your child has any of these symptoms, contact your pediatric dentist right away. In the meantime, there are several things you can do to ease your child’s pain. 

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen, can provide pain relief, as well as reduce swelling related to the abscess. 
  • Make sure not to give your child food or drinks that are too hot or too cold, as this could make their discomfort worse. 
  • Be very gentle when helping your child clean their teeth. Use a very soft toothbrush, and avoid flossing until they receive professional treatment for the abscess. 

Once your child is at your pediatric dentist’s office, several treatment plans may be presented. Regardless of the treatment plan, your child will be given the appropriate anesthetic and/or sedation so that they remain comfortable and calm throughout any procedures. 

  • A hole may be drilled in the infected tooth, or if the abscess is located in your child’s gum, it may be cut open (lanced). This will allow the abscess to drain.
  • If draining the abscess does not resolve the issue, root canal treatment is often the next step.  With this treatment, the dentist will try to save the tooth by removing the abscess from the root of the tooth, filling it and sealing it so that the infection does not recur.
  • Removing the tooth (extraction) may be the best option if the infection has started to spread and the tooth is severely affected. 

After the treatment(s), there are ways that you can keep your child comfortable and manage any pain.  

  • To reduce pain and swelling, place ice or a cold pack on the outside of your child’s cheek for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. 
  • If the dentist prescribed any pain medicine, give it to your child exactly as prescribed. If your child is not taking prescription pain medicine, ask your pediatric dentist if your child can take an over-the-counter pain reliever.
  • Make sure to give your child prescribed antibiotics as directed. Remember, don’t stop giving your child the antibiotics just because they are feeling better. To make sure that the infection does not flare up again, your child needs to take the full course of antibiotics. 
  • Make sure to go to all follow-up appointments, and call your pediatric dentist immediately if your child experiences any issues.

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