What Are the Common Causes of Pus from a Tooth?

A tooth infection may cause substantial pain.
A cross section of a tooth.
A warm salt water rinse is often used to ease the pain of a toothache.
Article Details
  • Written By: Madeleine A.
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 07 November 2014
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Pus from a tooth is caused by a bacterial infection. A tooth infection or abscess can cause significant pain, swelling and accumulation of pus. Although an infection of the tooth typically causes local symptoms, pus from the tooth can cause symptoms of a body-wide infection. This type of infection can cause fever, chills, nausea, and body aches. In addition, a tooth infection can result from an untreated cavity or from previous oral surgery.

Localized reactions from an abscessed tooth include swollen glands, bitter taste, and sensitivity to hot or cold. Although pus in a tooth is common, it may not always be present, especially in the early stages of the infection. Pain is typically moderate to severe when a tooth infection is present, however, when the tooth's pulp dies, as may be common in infection, the pain may dissipate or stop altogether. This does not mean that the infection is resolved and when this happens, prompt dental treatment is required reduce the risk of tooth loss or worsening of the infection.

Treatment for an oral infection that produces pus from a tooth includes antibiotics, salt-water rinses, and over-the-counter pain relievers. If pain is particularly severe, the dentist may prescribe prescription pain relievers. These medications, however, can cause significant side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, and lack of coordination. Driving or operating dangerous machinery should be avoided while taking prescription pain relievers.


In severe cases, the appearance of pus from a tooth can signal the need for a root canal. This may save the infected tooth, however, sometimes, the tooth may need to be extracted or the abscess drained. Untreated, an oral infection that produces pus from a tooth can cause life-threatening complications, though this is rare. When symptoms of a tooth infection are not responding to antibiotic treatment, the dentist needs to be notified for further evaluation and treatment of the condition.

Complications from a severe tooth infection may include a blood infection known a sepsis, the spread of the infection to the jaw bone or soft tissue, and the spread of the infection to the lungs, brain, or heart. Generally, when these severe complications arise, the individual will need to be treated at the hospital. Treatment may include intravenous fluids and antibiotics, oral surgery, and prescription pain relievers. In addition, the patient may need intravenous potassium or magnesium to reduce the risk of cardiac abnormalities.


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