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Dental Abscess (Child)

An abscess is an area of fluid (pus) that happens where there is an infection. A dental abscess is caused by bacteria inside a tooth. Bacteria can get inside a tooth if the tooth has a crack or cavity. Cavities are caused by problems in oral hygiene and poor diet. Cracks are most often caused by dental trauma.

Symptoms of a dental abscess include pain that is sharp or throbbing. The tooth is sensitive to hot, cold, or pressure. The gums can be red and swollen. Your child may also have a swollen neck or jaw and a fever. Some children have a bitter taste in the mouth or bad breath.

Antibiotics are given to treat the infection. In some cases, your child may need a root canal to save the tooth. In rare cases, the child may need surgery to drain the abscess.

Home care

Your child’s health care provider may prescribe medications for infection, pain, and fever. He or she may also prescribe fluoride tablets to help prevent tooth decay. Follow all instructions for giving these medications to your child. If your child is given an antibiotic, make sure to give all the medication for the full number of days until it is gone. Keep giving the medication even if your child has no symptoms.

General care

  • Apply a cold pack or ice compress for up to 20 minutes several times a day. This is to help reduce pain and relieve swelling. Cover it with a thin, dry cloth before putting it on your child’s skin.

  • Have your child rinse his or her mouth with warm saltwater. This will help reduce irritation, gum swelling, and pain. Make sure your child does not swallow the rinse.

  • Help your child have good oral hygiene. Brush your child’s teeth or have your child brush his or her teeth at least twice a day. Use a fluoride toothpaste and soft-bristle toothbrush. Help your child with areas that are hard to reach, such as back molars.

  • Offer your child a variety of healthy foods to eat. Have your child eat a healthy diet that doesn’t include many sugary foods and drinks.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child’s health care provider.

Special notes to parents

  • Babies ages 6 to 11 months. Teeth begin to come in around 6 months of age. Brush your child’s teeth to prevent cavities. Make sure your child has dental checkups as soon as teeth come in. Ask the dentist how often your child should be seen.

  • Children ages 12 months to 3 years. By the time a child is 3 years old, he or she will have a full set of baby teeth. It’s important to brush baby teeth to prevent cavities. Decay in baby teeth can affect permanent teeth.

  • Children ages 6 and up. Around the age of 6 to 7 years, permanent teeth start coming in. It’s important to brush permanent teeth to prevent cavities. Make sure your child has regular dental checkups. Ask the dentist how often your child should be seen.

When to seek medical advice

Call your child's health care provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher

  • Pain and swelling in your child's neck or face

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Redness or swelling that doesn’t go away

  • Pain that gets worse

  • Foul-smelling fluid coming from the tooth

 

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