Maybe it starts as a little bump on your gum that feels sore from time to time. Maybe you don’t notice anything until one day you get a searing pain followed by a funny taste in your mouth. If you are experiencing either of these things, chances are good you have a gingival abscess.

What is a gingival abscess?

A gingival abscess is one of three types of dental abscess. While a tooth abscess is located in the dental pulp and a periapical abscess attacks a tooth’s roots, a gingival abscess occurs in the gum tissue above your teeth. Gingival abscess, also known simply as a gum abscess, is a pus-filled sac caused by inflammation and bacteria.

A gingival abscess is one of the primary reasons you might visit a dentist (AZ Dentist is your Scottsdale emergency dentist if you’re near Phoenix!). These abscesses generally develop over time but can also present painful symptoms that develop overnight. Because bacteria causes it, an untreated gingival abscess can be serious, causing other health complications (even death).

No matter what you call it, this type of dental abscess needs treatment as soon as it is diagnosed.

What does a gum abscess look like?

A gum abscess may not look like much. Often it appears first as a white or yellow spot on the gum. Over time, the spot may appear to get larger and become swollen as the pocket fills with bacteria and pus. It resembles a pimple on the gum.

An untreated gingival abscess will eventually try to treat itself. The bacteria will eat away the gum and bone, boring a tunnel to create gingival abscess drainage. This tunnel is called a fistula or sinus tract and is visible as a small hole in the gums.

Periapical or tooth abscesses may not have many visible symptoms, but a gum abscess is visible almost from the moment it begins to form.

What are the symptoms of a gingival abscess?

Although some gingival abscesses are pain-free, the most common symptom is usually sharp pain when something touches the abscess. Other symptoms of gingival abscess include:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Warmth
  • Fever
  • Swollen neck and glands
  • Sharp pain
  • Foul taste in the mouth
  • Radiating pain
  • Feeling of malaise

Let’s look at these in more detail.

Swelling and redness

Inflammation is a hallmark of infection, and gingival abscess is no different.

The area around the abscess may become red, swollen, and warm to the touch. The outside of your face may also become red and swollen.


Fever is the body’s way of fighting infection. As the gum abscess progresses, the body amps up its production of white blood cells.

This is accompanied by a rise in body temperature, sometimes only by a few degrees.

Swollen neck and glands

The glands in the neck will swell with increased white blood cell activity and can become painful to the touch.

Sharp pain followed by no pain and a foul taste

Some patients experience a sharp pain on contact with the abscess, followed by a sense of relief and a foul-tasting fluid in the mouth.

The gingival abscess has most likely burst on contact when this occurs. This cycle will continue (abscess fills, causes pain, bursts, and fills again) until the infection is treated.

Pain that radiates

Pain from a gingival abscess can be sharp and stabbing, dull and achy, or radiating.

Radiating pain moves from the abscess to the neck, shoulders, and possibly even down the back.

A general feeling of malaise

When your