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How Long Before Tooth Infection Comes Back After Antibiotics?

There is no way to tell because it can be days, weeks, or months before your tooth infection comes back after taking antibiotics. It really depends on your condition and how severe the infection was but there is no way to guesstimate when the swelling may return.


Antibiotic Amoxicillin
Antibiotic Amoxicillin

However, if it does return what is certain is that you've a complication. Taking a second round of antibiotics may not help this time around and your only option may be to see a dentist.


Table of contents:


Can an abscess really come back?

Dental infections can certainly come back and when they do, it means that you have a complication. Call it what you will but you've an official complication if your abscess swells back up!


When it can come back:

  • After completing full course of antibiotics.

  • After finishing antibiotics with proper dental treatment.


Returns after antibiotics

It is very likely for a tooth infection to come back after taking antibiotics, especially if that is the only treatment you've done for it.


The reason is because the vast majority of dental conditions require intervention with a dentist procedure. That is the only way to treat the source of the infection and get rid of it permanently. The medication that you're prescribed afterwards is considered adjunctive therapy. It is meant to assist with the healing after your dental treatment.


gum boil - swollen pimple on the gums
gum boil - swollen pimple on the gums

Therefore, if you only took the antibiotics without getting proper treatment, it is highly likely for the infection to come back at some point in time. Essentially, you haven't done everything that you could to ensure that it wouldn't come back.


Returns after antibiotics with dental treatment

It is less likely for a tooth infection to come back if you take antibiotics after receiving proper treatment with a dentist.


The reason is because the dental treatment should've adequately eliminated the source of your infection or abscess. The purpose of the antibiotics is to ensure that you heal up without any hiccups and that includes the infection returning.


When does the infection return?

It is impossible to predict how long it takes for an infection to return after you finish taking your antibiotics. It is highly variable and depends completely upon your unique situation and how bad the infection was.


Nevertheless, we can tell you what we've personally seen with our patients at our dental practice. Perhaps that will give you an idea of what to expect for your situation.


How quickly can the infection come back?

The fastest that we've seen an infection come back is one day. Yes, you read that correctly we've had situations where the patient was taking the antibiotics but the infection just simply did not want to go away at all.


In fact, they were still swollen even after taking the antibiotics and remained swollen for the next few days. It wasn't until after they returned for a definitive dental procedure that the infection finally dissipated.


What this patient needed in addition to taking antibiotics:

  • Incision and drainage. Big infections with massive swellings will need to be drained in order for any antibacterial medication to even work.

  • Tooth extraction. Once the swelling subsided, then your dentist can properly identify the culprit of the infection and remove the tooth permanently from the mouth.


How long can antibiotics keep the infection away?

The longest time that we've seen antibiotics keep an infection away would be a couple of months. Although that only applies to wisdom teeth infection and pain. Typically it'll be for an impacted third molar where it swells up and goes away but then it comes back.


However, if you've a different type of infection, the longest that it can potentially keep it at bay would be a few weeks at most. This includes all dental conditions except for wisdom teeth pain.


Essentially, you can think of antibiotics as a form of temporary measure to manage the infection. For permanent pain relief and to get rid of it forever, you will need to see a dentist.


Antibiotics won't work the second time

If taking antibiotics cannot get rid of your infection the first time around, it means that it probably won't work the second time.


Two reasons why taking more medication won't help:

  • The bacteria develop antibiotic resistance.

  • Systemic therapy was not the right course of treatment.


Antibiotic resistance

Perhaps the infection came back because the bacteria developed a resistance to the antibiotic that you took. If it did, the swelling and abscess will come back with a vengeance. In other words, taking more won't necessarily help you.


You can keep taking more pills but the swelling won't go away and neither will the pain. Your only option left at this point would be to see your dentist.


Wrong type of treatment

The fact that taking antibiotics did not get rid of the infection permanently only goes to show that it wasn't the correct treatment for your condition. It means that taking pills was insufficient in treating your condition.


It doesn't make a lot of sense to try a second round of antibacterial medication and praying that it works this time. The end result will most likely end up the same.


When to see a dentist

If your infection returns, you need to seek professional help by seeing an emergency dentist immediately. Clearly the situation is out of your control and it makes no sense waiting to see if it'll go away or attempting home remedies to alleviate the pain. Delaying your dentist visit will only prolong the time that you'll be suffering in pain.

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About the author: Dr David Chen, DDS

Hello, I'm Dr Chen and I'm an actively practicing dentist in Long Island City, NY. I graduated from Columbia University College of Dental Medicine in 2016 but prior to going to dental school I was already working in the dental field. It's been more than a decade since I first got to know dentistry and let me tell you, time flies by quickly. Since then I've developed a fondness for writing, which is how this all got started!

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Medical Disclaimer:

This blog is purely meant for information purposes and should not be used as medical advice. Each situation in your mouth is unique and complex. It is not possible to give advice nor diagnose any oral conditions based on text nor virtual consultations. The best thing to do is to go in person to see your dentist for an examination and consultation so that you can receive the best care possible.

The purpose of all of this oral health information is to encourage you to see your dentist and to inform you of what you may expect during your visit. Due to the unfortunate nature of dentistry, there isn't really any true home remedies that will get rid of dental problems. Roughly 99.99% of them require in-person intervention by a healthcare professional.

Hint: That is the reason why you can't eliminate seeing dentists in your life!

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