Updated: Apr 28
Unfortunately it is NOT possible to drain a gum abscess at home because the swelling is more diffuse than localized. The abscess is usually spread out over a larger surface area on the gums rather than a pinpoint location. This makes it difficult for you to try to pop and drain it. This makes it very different from a tooth abscess that appears on the gums.
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Gum abscess vs tooth abscess on the gums
There is a big distinction between a gum abscess and a tooth abscess that is located on the gums. A tooth abscess is potentially drainable at home while the gum abscess is not. In fact, the tooth abscess will usually drain on its own either accidentally being popped while eating or brushing.
A gum abscess stems from periodontal origins, meaning it originates from the gums. It is usually caused by inflammation, infection, or foreign body impaction that is contained within the gums. The cause is related to the gums being affected and unhealthy.
The gums certainly look swollen but the swelling encompasses a larger surface area when compared to a tooth abscess. The borders of the swelling are not as distinct. It does look very red and bleeds easily when touched.
A tooth abscess originates from within the tooth and not from the gums. It is usually caused by large tooth decay, an unhealthy nerve, or an infection. The cause is typically related to the tooth being unhealthy rather than the gums being unhealthy.
However, the tooth abscess can grow and make its way through the tooth, out of the bone and through the gums. It usually forms a pimple on the gums, otherwise known as a gum boil.
The main differentiating factor for a tooth abscess is that the swelling looks like a distinct pimple on the gums. It is usually smaller in size than a gum abscess. The borders of the swelling are also very well defined and distinct. The color does look red and may bleed or ooze pus when touched.
Similarities between a gum and tooth abscess
They are both abscesses which means that they are filled with infection.
If they do pop they should ooze out pus and blood together.
They're reddish in color.
Both cause the gums to be swollen.
Both can be painful
Differences between a gum and tooth abscess
Gum abscesses tend to be larger in size.
Tooth abscesses are smaller and more distinct looking like a pimple.
Gum abscesses originate from the gums
Tooth abscesses (periapical abscess) originate from the tooth
You may be able to drain a tooth abscess.
How to drain a gum abscess at home
If you insist on trying to drain the gum abscess, you can give it a try at home but it won't be very effective. We don't believe that it'll do anything nor will it even work. Nonetheless you can try to pop it by squeezing it.
Wash your hands with soap and water.
Apply some orajel or anbesol on the abscess for 2-3 minutes.
Try to squeeze the abscess like you're popping a pimple on your face.
If it manages to pop, you have to continually rub the abscess.
Push down hard onto the bone and rub out all of the pus.
It is highly unlikely that you'll be able to drain the abscess by popping it. What is more likely to happen is you self-inflicting upon yourself a lot of pain. After a few minutes of trying you will give up and just make an appointment with your dentist.
Therefore we recommend against trying to drain it at home nor should you even attempt it. Another reason is because simply draining the abscess does not get rid of the source of the infection.
Why draining a gum abscess does not permanently fix it
The source of the gum abscess originates from the gums but it is usually caused by tartar deep underneath the gums or a foreign body that is lodged within it. Draining the abscess will not remove the tartar nor will it dislodge the foreign body. This is why popping the gum abscess does little to alleviate your pain nor fix the problem.
Tartar underneath the gums
Untreated plaque will calcify and harden into a substance called tartar, which cannot be removed by brushing and flossing. Only a dentist can remove tartar by using an ultrasonic scaler that vibrates at over 30,000 RPM. Once the tartar forms, it will cause the gums to be inflamed and that is how you get gingivitis.
Therefore, popping the abscess at home will not get rid of the tartar. You need to see your dentist in order to get a permanent fix. In addition to draining the gum abscess, your dentist will do either a regular dental cleaning or a deep dental cleaning. The combination of draining the abscess and removing the tartar is what cures it.
Foreign body lodged in the gums
One of the most common ways to end up with a gum abscess is by foreign body impaction within the gums. What will usually get stuck in the gums can be popcorn kernels, taco shells, or anything that is small and hard that can get stuck in the gums. If food does get jammed in the gums and you can't get it out, the gums will swell up and turn into an abscess.
As you can imagine, you can try popping the abscess but it will come right back after a day or two because what food particle that is stuck in the gums has not been removed. For a cure you would need to remove whatever is lodged in the gums in addition to draining the abscess.
Most people are unable to remove the foreign body and that is why the gums swell up into an abscess. Therefore you will need to make an appointment with your dentist to have them drain the abscess for you.
Treatment for a gum abscess
Just draining the abscess is insufficient in getting rid of it because that only relieves one of the symptoms which is the swelling. The source of the abscess is what is causing the swelling and that has not been addressed. Therefore treatment for this condition should consist of draining the abscess along with getting rid of the source.
Drain the abscess. The swelling does need to be treated and that is done by draining the abscess. Your dentist will get you numb and then lance it with a sharp scaler or a scalpel. Then they will squeeze out all of the pus.
Deep teeth cleaning or scaling. In order to get rid of the source of the abscess which is usually the tartar or foreign body deep underneath the gums, your dentist will need to scale it out. They will get you numb and then go as far down the gums as possible to scrape everything out. Whatever that is stuck down there should be loosened up and flushed out after the scaling. Afterwards your dentist may scrape the insides of the swollen gum to remove any inflamed gum tissue, this is called gingival curettage.
Antibiotic mouth rinse. Your dentist will then prescribe you an antibiotic mouth rinse to use for two weeks. You will rinse with chlorhexidine twice a day for 14 days straight. The rinse will help clear out the infection and help the gums heal faster.
These treatments are very different from a tooth abscess which consists of either a root canal or tooth extraction. The gum abscess is far more pleasant dental treatment wise in our opinion.
The only way to prevent a gum abscess from happening ever again, you must practice good oral hygiene and also eat your foods carefully.
Brush for at least 2 minutes twice a day.
Floss before going to bed.
Use a mouthwash like Listerine or even plain water after meals.
Avoid small hard foods that can stuck in the gums.
Chew your foods slowly so that you don't have any accidents.
DIY home remedies for a gum abscess
If you can't get to the dentist immediately, there are home remedies for that can potentially alleviate some of the tooth pain coming from the gum abscess. These are NOT cures but MAY help palliatively. Be sure to make an appointment with your dentist so that the condition doesn't worsen.
Salt water rinse. A saline rinse has natural antiseptic properties that can help slow down the spread of inflammation and impede bacterial activity. It will also help rinse out any food particles in your mouth as well. It is the primary rinse to use after a wisdom tooth extraction.
Pain medication. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen are fantastic painkillers. Just remember to be patient because it can take more than an hour for the effects to start working.
Hydrogen peroxide rinse. Extremely effective at killing bacteria because a 6% solution can reduce half of the bacteria in 15 seconds. Hydrogen peroxide is definitely worth a try to see if it can help.
Baking soda rinse. Baking soda has been proven to have antibacterial properties. You can try it as a rinse or even use it as a toothpaste.
Cold compress. Using a cold compress can help numb the pain from the cold. It will also reduce the swelling via pressure. The best thing is, it can be purchased at your local supermarket.
Garlic paste. Only fresh garlic has been shown to have the strongest antibacterial activity. The pre-made powders don't work as well.
Essential oils. Some popular essential oils such as oregano and clove have been used for tooth infections at home for many years. In fact, you may have noticed that your dentist's office sometimes smells like cloves.
Fenugreek tea. Drinking the tea or using it as a rinse can help reduce bacteria since it has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties.
Oil pulling. Using coconut oil can allegedly pull out toxins and bacteria from your mouth. The theory is up for debate but rinsing for 15-20 minutes with the oil can certain help reduce plaque because the oil can buffer the mouth back to a neutral environment from an acidic one. Bacteria work the most effectively in an acidic environment so the oil pulling may help in that regards.
A gum abscess should be drained by your dentist because simply draining it at home does not treat the source of the infection that is causing it. If you pop it at home, it will come right back after a day or two because the source continually produces more pus and that makes it swell back up again.
Another reason to not drain it at home is because it is impractical. Unlike a tooth abscess which looks like a pinpoint pimple on the gums, a gum abscess is more diffuse and covers a larger surface areas. That means you won't really know where the center of the infection is and you'll most likely just cause yourself pain by pressing around trying to pop it.
Author: Written by Dr David Chen, an emergency dentist in long island city.