How Does a Dentist Drain an Abcess Tooth?



Antibiotics Treat Abscess

  • After an initial assessment to verify that a toothache is indeed related to an abscess, a dentist may prescribe powerful antibiotics to fight or at least contain the abscess infection. Because an abscess is, in its most basic form, an infection of the soft tissue around the root of a tooth, antibiotics like Augmentin, Amoxicillin or Penicillin can help contain the infection and reduce swelling until a root canal can be scheduled and performed. Because the abscess is an infection, it may swell, create pressure on the gum and tooth’s pulp, and cause excruciating pain; antibiotic treatment typically helps reduce swelling as it assists the body in fighting off the infection, but it is only a temporary solution and a root canal or, in extreme cases, an extraction is necessary.

Dentists Drill Into the Tooth

  • After treating an abscess with antibiotics, usually for two to four weeks, a dentist begins a root canal procedure by numbing the tooth and surrounding gum in preparation for drilling. Using a small dental drill, the dentist begins a root canal by clearing away infected, dead and diseased pulp inside the tooth. As the dentist drills away this material, he exposes tooth passageways that travel deep into the gum; these long, narrow passages are known as the tooth’s root. Although the dentist may remove most of the tooth’s pulp during the drilling process, this event does not specifically treat the abscess; instead, it creates access to the tooth’s root through which the dentist uses highly specialized tools to access the actual infection site.

Dentists Drain the Abscess

  • With the tooth’s pulp removed and the roots easily accessible, the dentist is clear to access and drain the abscess. To perform this function, dentists or endodontists (highly trained dentists who specialize in root canal therapy) use a long, thin, flexible device much like a miniature pipe cleaner to strip remaining debris and pulp from the tooth’s roots. This small device is specifically designed to protrude through the canals deep inside a tooth’s root and pierce into the gum. Once the dentist uses the tool to clear all barriers between the abscess and the open air, the collection of blood, pus and bacteria that comprise the abscess generally drain on their own. Depending on the dentist or endodontist, he may allow the abscess to drain for a several minutes or a few hours to ensure the abscess is fully cleared. Once the abscess has cleared, dentists typically seal the empty tooth with a cement-like substance and fit it with a temporary or permanent crown.

Dentists May Need to Lance

  • While root canal therapy is, according to, the preferred way to handle abscesses, some special circumstances may require a more immediate response to eliminate the infection. In cases where a patient can not wait for root canal therapy to clear an abscess, a dentist or endodontist may use a long, hollow needle, similar to the ones used to administer shots, to pierce the gum and tissue surrounding the abscess. Once the dentist gains access to the infection using a needle, he may drain as much of it as possible then administer antibiotics to facilitate healing until a root canal can be performed.


  • Photo Credit BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images
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