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 body is actively fighting infection, you may feel generally unwell in a way that you can’t quite pinpoint. You may feel:

  • Tired
  • Irritated
  • Mildly depressed
  • Slightly nauseated

What causes gum abscess?

Gingival abscess is most often caused by poor dental hygiene practices.

Improper brushing and flossing leaves food particles on your teeth and gums. These particles feed bacteria, which is always looking for a warm place to live and grow. If there is an opening in gum tissue, bacteria can burrow in and begin to multiply.

Trauma that leads to broken teeth or injured gums can also cause gum abscess. People with compromised immune systems are more susceptible to infection and thus have a higher chance of developing gingival abscess even from minor scrapes or gaps in the gumline. Those with periodontal disease also have a higher chance of developing a gum abscess.

How do you treat an abscess on your gum?

Treating a gum abscess is a multi-step process that includes:

  • Draining the abscess
  • Cleaning out the affected area
  • Treating the infection
  • Supporting proper healing
  • Preventing further infection

Always work with a highly-trained dentist to manage all aspects of this treatment approach.

What’s involved with gingival abscess drainage?

Incising and draining a gingival abscess is not a pleasant experience, but it is mercifully short-lived.

Your dentist will administer a local anesthetic and make an incision in the abscess. This incision will allow the pus to drain. After cleaning out the abscess, your dentist will discuss other treatment needs.

Will I need antibiotics?

Your dentist may decide to apply antibiotics to the drained gingival abscess. They may also prescribe oral antibiotics if the infection proves to be intractable.

While antibiotics can certainly help fight infection, many doctors are cautious and do not want to overprescribe them. Your dentist will work with you to decide whether antibiotics are part of your best treatment options.

Can I treat my abscess at home?

Gum abscess home treatment is possible and most effective when combined with observation and treatment at the dentist.

Once your abscess is diagnosed, you can control pain and swelling at home by applying ice packs to the affected area. Ibuprofen can also help fight pain and inflammation. Once the gum abscess has burst, regular Epsom salt rinses can help keep it clean and bacteria-free.

How can I prevent an abscess from reoccurring?

The best way to prevent a gingival abscess from reoccurring after treatment is to practice proper dental hygiene. Brush your teeth carefully twice a day, floss at least once, and use a non-alcoholic mouthwash once a day. Visit your dentist for twice-yearly checkups, as well.

If you have a gingival abscess, you may need a Scottsdale weekend dentist when something goes awry outside of regular office hours. Give us a call; at AZ Dentist, we are here for emergencies and regular dental care when you need us at one of our Phoenix area dental clinics!