Updated: May 3
Depending on the stage of the tooth abscess, you may be able to drain it yourself at home but whether or not it is effective is another story. We will go over how to do it but also why you shouldn't do it. We'll also give you some alternative home remedies which may help alleviate some of the symptoms.
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How to drain an abscess tooth yourself
A small tooth abscess that is a pimple on your gums will usually pop and drain by itself accidentally while you're eating or brushing. You'll notice it right away because you'll have a foul taste in your mouth from the white pus that is oozing out.
Accidentally while eating. If you're eating small hard foods such as potato chips, tortilla, taco shells, or anything that is crunchy or abrasive can accidentally pop the tooth abscess if it scratches it.
Accidentally while brushing. It is not uncommon for your toothbrush to accidentally traumatize the abscess on the gums and pop it. This is especially true if you happen to be an aggressive brusher.
The reason why it can accidentally be drained is because the abscess is a small swelling that protrudes from the surface of the gums making it prone to injury. Since it is sticking out like a sore thumb, various objects such as foods and toothbrushes can injure it and pop it.
Appearance of a tooth abscess:
Looks like a pimple on the gums that is reddish to white in color.
It is also commonly known as a gum boil or parulis.
It protrudes from the surface of the gums, which makes it prone to injury.
Intentionally popping it
Even though these small tooth abscesses will usually pop on their own, some people still try to drain it themselves. It will typically start draining if you just accidentally scratch it or injure it but we do not recommend doing it because we don't think it is necessary. The reason is because popping it does not get rid of the source of the infection, which is usually coming from the tooth. Popping the abscess does nothing for the tooth.
Nonetheless here are two methods that we've heard some of our patients try at home.
Squeeze it with your fingers. Some people will try to just squeeze it out like a pimp on their face. If you're going to try this, at least wash your hands with soap and water.
Poke it with a needle. Some people have tried finding a needle and then cleaning it with rubbbing alcohol. Then they'll just give the abscess a tiny nick.
We advise against trying to pop it yourself because that's just painful and unnecessary. It is unnecessary in that it'll usually just pop on its own. It is painful in that you're not numb while doing it. You should just make an appointment with your dentist because even after you pop it, it does NOTHING to stop the infection from forming another abscess on your gums.
You should NOT drain a tooth abscess at home
The primary reason not to do it is because if you were looking for a method on how to get rid of a tooth abscess without going to the dentist, there isn't one. The abscess that you see forming on the gums is not the source of the infection because the source is coming from the tooth itself.
Even if you drain the abscess all by yourself, the source of the infection will just reproduce another pimple a day or two later. Therefore, draining a tooth abscess at home is not a permanent cure to get rid of the infection. In order to get rid of it completely, you must treat the source.
Just to be thorough, we need to go over a small tooth abscess vs a big tooth abscess because the infection does go through different stages.
Small tooth abscess
A small tooth abscess looks like a small pimple on the gums. This one will usually drain by itself when it gets scratched by hard food while you're eating. Therefore, there is nothing that you really need to do for it at home. Instead you should just make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible to have the source of the infection treated.
Big tooth abscess
A large tooth abscess is much more than just a small pimple on the gums because it will include major swelling on the face. In fact, the swelling can grow larger than a golf ball and makes your face look asymmetrical and disfigured.
If your abscess looks like this, it is not drainable at home nor will it accidentally pop while eating hard foods. This type of swelling will need to be drained and treated by a dentist. You'll also need antibiotics afterwards to get rid of all of the infection.
Do not ignore an abscess of this size thinking that it may go away on its own because it won't. If you leave it alone, it'll just keep swelling and increasing in size until it becomes unbearable. This is a very serious situation and could potentially be life threatening. You really don't want to find out, how long until a tooth infection can kill you because it can if you give it enough time!
DIY home remedies for abscess tooth
If you're not able to make it to the dentist immediately or you can only get an appointment a few days away, there are home remedies for an abscessed tooth. Just to be clear, a home remedy for an abscess tooth will not cure it but it can lessen the pain ever so slightly so that you can last long enough until your designated dentist appointment.
Salt water rinse. A saline rinse has natural antiseptic properties that can help slow down inflammation and impede bacterial activity. It can mildly help reduce some of the inflammation and lessen the pain.
Pain medication. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen will always work in killing the pain. 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 numb the pain from the cold and also reduce the swelling by putting pressure on it. You can purchase it at your local market or make your own from ice in your freezer.
Garlic paste. Civilizations have been using garlic for centuries as a natural antibiotic. You can make a paste with it by crushing fresh garlic and then rubbing it on the abscess.
Fenugreek tea. This tea has antibacterial properties to it but you do have to steep it and let it cool before trying to use it as a mouth rinse. Alternatively you can also drink it to see if it helps.
Oil pulling. This is an ancient technique that has been used holistically to pull bacteria and toxins out of your mouth. It is effective in reducing plaque and fighting gingivitis. In order to use it, you must swish and gargle with coconut oil or another type of oil for about 15-20 minutes. Make sure you spit out the oil and don't swallow it because it allegedly contains all of the toxins that were pulled out.
Once again, home remedies will not cure the infection but may potentially alleviate the pain while you're waiting for your dental appointment.
How your dentist treats a tooth abscess
The source of the infection stems from the tooth and that is why it is called an abscess of the tooth. Treatment will usually require either a root canal or a tooth extraction.
Root canal. If the tooth is in overall good shape, you may be able to just remove the unhealthy infected nerve from the tooth but leave the tooth in place. Afterwards you will need a dental crown to protect the tooth.
Tooth extraction. If the infection is so severe that the tooth has become compromised, you may need the entire tooth removed in order to clear out the infection. If that is the case you may need to think about tooth replacement options afterwards such as an implant or a bridge.
Your dentist will not use any of the home remedies listed above so that may give you an idea about how effective they are for an abscessed tooth.
A tooth abscess does not need to be intentionally drained at home because they will usually pop all by themselves while you're eating without realizing it. Even if they do get drained, you still need to see a dentist because the source of the infection comes from the tooth and that has not been addressed by simply draining the abscess.
Don't wait, you should make an appointment immediately if you have a dental abscess because it will not go away on its own. This is why it is important to see your dentist every six months for a check up and cleaning so that you can catch these infections while they're small.
Author: Written by Dr David Chen, an emergency dentist in long island city.
This article is for information purposes only.
You should consult your own dentist since they are your primary care provider.
99.99% of dental symptoms require intervention by a dentist, that's just the unfortunate nature of dentistry. (Hint: its the reason why you can't get rid of us.)