Its not unusual for a dental abscess to burst on its own because it is literally a ball of pus enclosed by your thin stretched out swollen gums. It is akin to a balloon that is full of air and can easily pop if you scratch or puncture it accidentally.
The abscess becomes prone to injury as it grows in size. The increase in swelling due to the increased production of pus, forces the gums to be stretched out to accommodate the extra pus. As it gets bigger and bigger, the gums gets stretched thinner and thinner.
Once the gums get thin enough, the dental abscess can potentially pop on its own while you're eating or by getting scratched accidentally.
Eating. If you were eating something hard such as potato chips or taco shells, the sharp hard edges can puncture the abscess and cause it to burst.
Scratched. Alternatively you could also be brushing and the bristles of the toothbrush can scratch it open as well.
As it progresses through the stages of an abscess, it grows in size and can potentially lend itself to getting popped if the gums get stretched thin enough. Are you wondering what you should do about it?
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What to do if a dental abscess bursts on its own
If a dental abscess bursts on its own, you'll get a mass of pus, blood, and foul odor overflowing from your mouth. You should try your best to drain it, keep it clean, and schedule an appointment with your dentist.
Immediately after the abscess pops:
Right after it pops, there will be a mess in your mouth from all of the pus and blood mixed with the infection. What you should try to do is clean up your mouth and try to finish draining the dental abscess if possible.
Rinse your mouth out with salt water. Add some salt to a cup of water and rinse for 1-2 minutes to get rid of the oozing infection.
Wash your hands with soap and water. You want your hands to be clean before you touch anything in your mouth.
Drain the abscess. Using a clean finger, press on the abscess and rub it back and forth to squeeze out the rest of the infection. Only do this if it is not painful. If it is painful, stop touching it and causing yourself pain.
Rinse with Listerine. Do one final rinse with Listerine to disinfect your mouth and the site with the abscess.
The purpose of this step is to remove as much of the abscess and infection in your mouth as possible. If you're able to drain it more, that's great but if you can't then that's ok too because you can just leave it to your dentist.
If you're able to drain it, it would be helpful for you because then you wouldn't continually get pus oozing out of the abscess. By keeping your mouth clean, you'll also help eliminate the bad odor that may be emanating from the infection site.
How to keep it clean and prevent it from getting worse:
It may be difficult for you to be seen by your dentist immediately which is why it is important to keep your mouth as clean as possible until your appointment. What you should do is rinse with salt water as often as possible so that it will help minimize the swelling and at least slow down the spread of the abscess.
Pour 4 oz of water into a cup.
Add about a teaspoon of salt.
Lightly stir the mixture.
Swish and gargle with it for 1-2 minutes as often as possible but definitely after every meal.
We recommend rinsing with salt water as often as possible instead of Listerine because the acidity from the Listerine may cause you pain. The saline rinse is a lot more gentle so it won't hurt as much.
Ultimately you need to see your dentist:
Even if you manage to finish draining the abscess and you continue to keep your mouth clean with salt water rinses, you still need to see a dentist. The reason is because draining it and keeping it clean does not treat the source of the infection. The source is usually coming from inside of the tooth so unless you can treat the inside of the tooth, the abscess will not go away.
What you will notice is that the abscess may flatten out immediately after it pops but over the next few days, IT WILL SWELL UP AGAIN. That happens because the source of the abscess will continually produce more pus and that pus will cause your gums to swell up once again. Therefore it is a perpetuating cycle until you permanently fix the source of the problem.
Source of a tooth abscess
Most abscessed teeth are a result of small cavities that are untreated and left to grow. The cavity starts in the enamel and progresses through the stages of tooth decay by going into the dentin and then the pulp. After it reaches the pulp, it will travel down to the tip of the root where it will slowly start forming an abscess in the bone.
Here is a picture of an abscess in the bone on a dental x-ray:
What the tooth abscess looks like on an x-ray is a big dark circle around the root.
If the tooth abscess is not treated, the infection will eventually eat through the bone and form a pimple on the gums. We often refer to this pimple as a gum boil.
That pimple will grow larger and larger as the abscess grows in size. This is also the stage of the infection where it can potentially pop.
How your dentist permanently fixes the abscess
Since the source of the infection comes from within the tooth, usually due to tooth decay only your dentist can fix it. They can fix it by removing the cavity and treating the infected nerve. Typically an infection with this type of swelling will require a root canal or a tooth extraction.
Root canal. Your dentist may attempt to save the tooth by removing the infected nerve with a root canal treatment. They may need to place antibiotics inside of the tooth as well as drain the abscess in order to clear it completely. You should also expect to take a week of antibiotics at a minimum. Afterwards you'll need a dental crown made to protect the tooth.
Tooth extraction. If the abscess is too large and it renders the tooth un-restorable, you will need to have the entire tooth removed. Even with taking out the tooth, you will still need the abscess drained as well. It will be a combination of tooth removal, abscess drainage, and taking antibiotics that will clear the infection.
This is why it is important to go for your dental check ups every 6 months because you can catch tooth decay while its small. Small cavities are easily treated with cavity fillings and does not require complex and expensive treatments such as root canals and tooth removals.
What if I don't get treatment?
If you do not make an appointment with your dentist and you don't want any treatment, what will happen is that the abscess will come back. Sometimes it may come back fiercer than before by swelling up even more.
That pimple on the gums can swell up further. Sometimes the swelling can get so bad that you can barely even see your teeth. Here is a photo of a more advanced stage of swelling from an untreated abscess.
If that doesn't concern you, there is more to come because the abscess can swell even further. In fact, the abscess can swell up enough to make your face look disfigured like this photo:
In fact, if you still choose to ignore it the swelling can progress to the point where it even begins to become life threatening because it can cut off your airway. If your airway is cut off, you will have difficulty breathing and if you were ever curious about how long until a tooth infection kills you, you may not have to wait very long to find out.
Overall, the point that we're trying to make is that a dental abscess won't go away on its own. It is up to you to take action and be in control of your life and your health.
If your gum abscess pops by itself, you should try to drain it, keep it clean, and then schedule an appointment with your dentist. That last step of seeing your dentist is the most important part because the source of the infection needs to be treated. Only your dentist is capable of permanently getting rid of the infection.
If you leave the dental abscess alone and don't do anything about it, it will get progressively worse. The swelling will probably increase and so will the pain. It could potentially get to the point where it can become life threatening. We're not trying to scare you but we do want to emphasize that you MUST see a dentist if you have an abscess in your mouth because we don't want anything to happen to you.
Aside from preventing pain, we also don't want you to spend an excessive amount of money on dental procedures. As you can imagine, if you end up in the hospital due to a dental abscess like the previous photo of a life threatening infection, it will be an expensive bill. However, if you were diligent about keeping up with your check ups, you probably could've avoided this entire situation by catching cavities while they're small. Tooth fillings are significantly less expensive than a hospital stay!
Author: Written by Dr David Chen, a long island city dentist.