When bacteria reach the inside of a tooth, it can cause a painful infection called a tooth abscess.1

Here’s some information to help you understand the details about tooth abscesses and available treatment options.


A tooth abscess is a pocket of pus infected with bacteria, which can form in different parts of a tooth. Common dental procedures can help drain the infection and potentially save the tooth. However, if a tooth abscess is left untreated, it can cause serious to life-threatening complications.2


Bacteria is the main cause of a tooth abscess. Once bacteria enters the tooth (usually through a cavity, chip or crack), it can infect the pulp. The pulp contains blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue, which allow the bacteria to spread anywhere in the tooth, including the root.3


Common signs and symptoms include:4

  • Constant, severe toothache that can be felt in the jawbone, neck and ear
  • Tooth sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures
  • Tooth sensitivity to chewing or biting
  • Swelling in your face or cheek
  • Tender, swollen lymph nodes
  • Trouble breathing or swallowing
  • Fever

Treatment options

Home remedies can offer temporary pain relief, but all tooth abscesses should be treated by a dentist.

Home pain relief treatments for tooth abscesses5

  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) and ibuprofen (e.g., Advil).
  • Rinse your mouth with warm salt water.

Dental treatments for tooth abscess6

  • Drainage—A small cut is made into the abscess so the pus can drain. The area is then rinsed with salt water.
  • Root canal—The dentist drills into the tooth, removes the infected pulp and drains the abscess. Once complete, the inside of the tooth is cleaned, filled and sealed to prevent reinfection.
  • Extraction—If the tooth can’t be saved, it will be pulled to access the abscess and remove the infection.
  • Antibiotics—If the infection has spread to nearby teeth or other areas, or you have a weakened immune system, antibiotics may be prescribed.

Humana can help with tooth abscess treatment

If you need dental treatment for tooth abscess, Humana can help. We offer a broad range of dental plans with varying levels of coverage, many with low monthly premiums. Some of our plans also feature no waiting periods, which means you could get covered in about 5 days. To see plans and prices in your area, check out our Humana Insurance Company dental insurance page.


  1. “Tooth abscess,” Mayo Clinic, last accessed October 7, 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tooth-abscess/symptoms-causes/syc-20350901, opens new window.
  2. “Tooth abscess.”
  3. “Tooth abscess.”
  4. “Tooth abscess.”
  5. “Tooth abscess.”
  6. “Tooth abscess.”