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Complications of a dental abscess

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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With appropriate dental treatment, a dental abscess can usually be easily cured. However, in rare cases, complications can occur.

Most complications arise due to the spread of the bacterial infection when an abscess is left untreated. Some possible complications are outlined below.

Dental cysts

If a dental abscess is left untreated, a fluid-filled cavity may develop at the bottom of the root of your tooth. This is known as a dental cyst.

If a cyst becomes infected, treatment with  antibiotics may be needed. A dental cyst can be surgically removed under  local anaesthetic (where the affected area is numbed).


Osteomyelitis is an infection of the bone. It is caused by the bacteria in a dental abscess spreading through your bloodstream.

Osteomyelitis can cause symptoms such as fever, nausea (feeling sick) and severe pain in the affected bone, which can often be in the area surrounding a dental abscess.

However, as the infection is spread through your blood, it is possible for it to affect any bone in your body. Osteomyelitis can be treated by taking oral antibiotics or injecting them into a vein.

Read more osteomyelitis.


Sinusitis is an infection of the small air-filled cavities inside your skull.

It is usually the cavities behind your cheekbones that can become infected as a complication of a dental abscess. These are known as the maxillary sinuses.

Symptoms of sinusitis include:

  • a blocked or runny nose
  • facial pain and tenderness
  • a high temperature (fever) of 38°C (100.4°F) or above

Sinusitis often clears up without treatment but, if necessary, antibiotics may be prescribed.

Read more about sinusitis.

Medical Review: March 12, 2012

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