How to Get Pain Relief Fast From a Tooth Abscess

Updated: Oct 14

A tooth abscess is a serious dental condition because when it is left untreated it can cause your face to swell as well as inflict a lot of pain upon you. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to get it treated as soon as possible so that you can finally have some relief from the pain.


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Table of Contents:



Overview

A dental abscess can be extremely painful because it can grow and cause swelling within the tooth. Since the tooth is a rigid structure, it cannot expand to accommodate the swelling and that results in a drastic increase in pressure from within the tooth. It is the pressure building up inside of the tooth that is causing unbearable tooth pain.


Therefore, the only way to get true pain relief from a tooth abscess is by opening up the tooth so that the pressure can be relieved. This means that only your dentist can offer you permanent pain relief from a dental abscess. All other methods such as home remedies can only temporarily dull the pain but does nothing to address the source of the problem, which is the built up pressure from within the tooth.


What is this pressure and how does it form?

The tooth infection can start in many ways but the most common reason is from tooth decay. It starts as a small cavity that grows bigger and bigger progressing through the stages of tooth decay until it reaches the nerve. Once the bacteria gets to the nerve, it will start to grow uncontrollably. Your body will try to fight off the infection by sending white blood cells to area.


Casualties occur on both sides with bacteria and white blood cells both dying. All of these dead cells pool together to form a white fluid called pus. As the infection rages on and more cells keep dying, the amount of pus starts to accumulate and grow. This growth in pus is what contributes to the swelling and pressure from within your tooth.


Once the swelling is maximized inside the tooth, the swelling will start to spread into the bone and into the surrounding soft tissue like your gums and cheeks. It gets progressively more painful as the swelling spreads because then you're not only feeling pressure from the tooth but also the gums and your face.


You can literally see a pimple that has swelled up besides the tooth once it gets bad enough. That pimple is full of pus so if you pop it, you'll see white fluids pour out of it.


Just so that you know, tooth abscesses often do present with swelling but they don't always start with it. Most people already have an abscess but they just don't realize it and allow it to grow until it gets bad enough that their face swells up. This is why it is important to catch it early on. The only way to do that is if you know what other ways a tooth abscess can look like.




The fastest way to get pain relief from a tooth abscess

The majority of the pain from a tooth abscess comes from the swelling and increase in pressure from either within the tooth or the surrounding soft tissue. Therefore the only way to relieve the pain is by relieving the pressure by opening the abscess up. Depending on the location of the dental abscess, you'll have to open up either the tooth or the soft tissues.



Abscess inside the tooth

The procedure of opening up the tooth in order to relieve pressure from the abscess is called a pulpotomy, which is basically the first step of a root canal. Your dentist will first get you thoroughly numb so that they can start drilling into the tooth. They will literally drill a hole straight through the tooth until it reaches the nerve.


Once there is an open pathway from the nerve to the outside of the oral cavity, all of the pressure will be instantaneously released. The pain will also dissipate immediately once the tooth is opened up. This is the absolute fastest way to get pain relief from an abscess inside the tooth.



Abscess in the soft tissue

Sometimes the infection can spread to the soft tissue such as the gums or your face. If this happens, you will need to open up where the abscess is located. if it is on the gums, the gums will need to be opened up. If it is on your face, the face will need to be opened up.


What we mean by opening the abscess in the soft tissue is by cutting into it with a scalpel and then drain the abscess by squeezing it out. This procedure is called an incision and drainage.



What this all means

Basically, the fastest way to get pain relief is by opening up the abscess and the only one that can do that is your dentist! The relief comes from relieving the pressure in the abscess. Therefore all home remedies can only temporarily dull the pain but does nothing to stop it since they're unable to drain the abscess.


Just so you know what to expect, even after getting pain relief from the tooth abscess by draining it, you still need to treat the source of the infection. The only way to get rid of an abscess is by extracting the tooth or getting a root canal. Otherwise the abscess may return a few days later because the source of the abscess will just reproduce the infection.




Home remedies that may offer pain relief

Home remedies won't drain the abscess nor reduce the swelling. Nonetheless they are still helpful because if you are unable to make it to the dentist immediately, it can at least provide momentary pain relief until you're able to do so.


Salt water rinse

Using a salt water rinse is an easy and readily accessible option for keeping your abscessed tooth clean. It'll flush away any food or debris that may be contributing to the discomfort.


How to use:

  1. Fill a cup with 2 oz of water.

  2. Add a teaspoon of salt.

  3. Stir lightly.

  4. Rinse for about 2-5 minutes.

  5. Spit out and repeat as many times as necessary.



Oregano oil

Oregano oil has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, which may help fight an abscessed tooth. This will be most effective if the abscess is coming from the gums because the oil can directly reach the infection.


How to use:

  1. Apply oregano oil onto a cotton swab.

  2. Swab the offending tooth for 1-2 minutes.

  3. Repeat as many times as necessary.

Alternatively, you can also mix a few drops into a bowl of water and use it as a mouth rinse.



Cold compress

A cold compress is very helpful in numbing the pain from any sort of swelling that comes from an abscess. The cold will numb the area and that will offer some pain relief.


How to use:

  1. Place an ice pack on the site of swelling or abscess.

  2. Keep it on for 15 minutes

  3. Take it off for 15 minutes

  4. Repeat as many times as needed.



Clove oil

You may be surprised but a lot of dental products actually use cloves as an ingredient to help calm down irritated nerves. It is technically approved for use as temporary relief for toothaches in the United Kingdom. The United states does not say so specifically but you can definitely smell clove oil in dental offices. The technicality is that it is ok to use in the US when it is mixed with other ingredients.


How to use:

  1. Apply 1-2 drops of clove oil onto a Q-tip.

  2. Rub it around the tooth that is in pain for 5-10 minutes.

  3. Rinse your mouth out with water.

  4. Repeat every couple of hours as needed.



Thyme oil

The particular essential oil has antiseptic properties and is commonly used in oral infections. It can also be used for fungal and yeast infections as well. Therefore it may help kill bacteria and other microorganisms in an abscessed tooth.


How to use:

  1. Apply a drop of thyme oil to a cotton swab.

  2. Rub it around the offending tooth for 5-10 minutes.

  3. Rinse your mouth out with water.

  4. Repeat as many times as needed.



Hydrogen peroxide

Studies have shown that hydrogen peroxide can reduce the amount of infection by 50% after rinsing for 15 seconds with a 6% solution. There is no reason why it wouldn't help in fighting an abscessed tooth.


How to use:

  1. Mix 4 oz of water with 4 oz of hydrogen peroxide.

  2. Stir lightly.

  3. Rinse and gargle with the solution for 15-30 seconds.

  4. Spit out and repeat as many times as needed.



Pain medication

Last but not least, don't forget your trusted old pain medication. Either ibuprofen or acetaminophen should hold you over until you can make it to the dentist. These pain relievers will reduce the amount of pain and inflammation from the tooth abscess.


How to use:

  1. Take either 600 mg of ibuprofen or 650 mg of tylenol every 8 hours.




Takeaway

The only way to get fast pain relief from a tooth abscess is by opening the abscess to relieve the pressure that has been building up from the swelling. Only a dentist can do that for you. If you're unable to make it to the dentist, there are a variety of home remedies, which may offer some pain relief until you are able to get to the dentist. Just be aware that these at home remedies do not address the source of the pain, which is coming from the swelling.


Our office offers emergency dentistry services in Long Island City. Come make an appointment if you're close by.

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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!