Abscessed tooth emergency, no insurance: 3 ways to treat an abscess tooth

Share this article

Find out how to treat an abscess tooth emergency and how to pay for it.

Find out how to treat an abscess tooth emergency and how to pay for it.

An abscess in a tooth can cause severe pain and serious side effects. However, an abscess doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time for an abscess to develop and if you are careful you may be able to stop the abscess before it endangers your health. If you have an abscess that’s causing a lot of pain and you don’t have dental insurance there are some things that you can do to temporarily lessen the pain but ultimately you will need to see a dentist to cure the infection.

How to treat an abscess tooth

How long can a tooth infection go untreated? Ideally you would get treatment for the infection right away. But if you have a tooth abscess and no dental insurance there are some home remedies you can try to knock the infection out when it’s in the early stages. However, if the infection has progressed to the point where you’re in serious pain or if you are having a constant bad taste in your mouth that is getting worse you need to go to the emergency room or make an emergency dental appointment. If left untreated, your bacterial infection can invade other parts of your body. 

But if you know that you have cavities and can’t them filled immediately or you suspect that you have a dental infection but it’s still in an early stage you can try some of those home remedies to treat a tooth abscess:

1. Rinses 

Rinses are easy to do and you probably have the most effective rinse ingredients already in your fridge or cupboard. Just make sure that when you’re mixing a rinse you use warm water not hot water. If the water is too hot it can irritate your already sore teeth or gums. 

  • Saltwater rinse: This basic rinse is very soothing for inflamed gums and it will help control the amount of bacteria in your mouth. Mix about ½ a teaspoon of salt into about ½ cup of warm and rinse your mouth with it. You can do this a couple of times each day.

  • Baking soda rinse: Another easy and convenient rinse option is to use baking soda, the same baking soda you use in your refrigerator to absorb odors. Baking soda can be a bit abrasive but it’s excellent at removing plaque and bacteria from the mouth. Mix a half teaspoon of baking soda into a half cup of warm water, just like the saltwater rinse. Don’t use this one more than once a day because it can be a little harsh. 

  • Hydrogen peroxide rinse: Peroxide is an antimicrobial and it can help treat any existing infection. To make a peroxide rinse mix three parts hydrogen peroxide with warm water and rinse your mouth with it. 

2. Teas

Herbs have some healing properties and teas can provide a way to get the benefits of those therapeutic properties. You can buy premade herbal teas or you can make your own by steeping one or teaspoons of an herb in hot water for up to 10 minutes and then straining out the herbs. The most effective teas to use to control fever and infections are:

  • Fenugreek tea

  • Tumeric tea

  • Goldenseal tea

  • Echinacea tea

  • Peppermint tea

3. Essential oils

Essential oils can be effective home remedy for an abscessed tooth. Just make sure that the essential oils you use are therapeutic grade pure essential oils and not fragrance oils. They should say therapeutic grade or pure essential oil on the labels. Pure essential oils are not cheap, so if the oils only cost a few dollars each they are most likely not therapeutic grade essential oils. The best oils to use are:

  • Oil of oregano

  • Lavender oil

  • Tea tree oil

  • Peppermint oil

  • Clove oil

  • Thyme oil

To use essential oils, put a few drops of the oil on a cotton swab or a cotton ball and hold it against the sore tooth or your sore gums.

How to pay for emergency dental care

Abscessed tooth emergency, no insurance

When is a tooth infection an emergency? The short answer is when there is intense sharp pain, or if you can see pus leaking from a tooth or from your gums, you should seek professional care If the pain is so bad that you can’t stand it, or if the bad taste in your mouth is extreme, or if you notice that pus is leaking from your tooth you may need emergency care 

If you call for an emergency dental appointment or go see a dentist at the first available appointment and you don’t have dental insurance your visit could end up costing quite a bit. There are options available to help lower the cost of emergency dental treatment like:

  • Dental insurance: Even if you are careful about your dental hygiene you can develop an abscess tooth. Having dental insurance will help protect you from having to pay huge out of pocket costs to get treatment if you have a dental emergency like an abscess tooth. The last thing you should have to worry about if you have a dental emergency is the cost of treatment. Compare dental plans and you’ll find there is one that will fit almost any budget. Investing in dental insurance is an investment in your health. 

  • Payment plans: Ask the financial manager at the dental practice about financing if you are short on cash. Many practices offer in-house financing options that will give you the opportunity to pay for your treatment in installments to make it easier to afford.

A background decorative of Blue color

What is an abscess tooth?

Abscesses form when small holes in a tooth or in the gum tissue near a tooth allow bacteria to get into the tooth and kill the root, or to invade the gums. Because of the rampant bacteria in the mouth a bacterial infection will enter through that hole and grow, damaging the tooth and causing pain. An abscess can occur in or near a tooth. An abscess in the tooth near the root of the tooth is called a periapical abscess and an abscess in the gums near or between two teeth is called a periodontal abscess. An abscess can form when the tooth is cracked or injured or when you don’t practice good oral hygiene and a cavity occurs in a tooth and is left untreated. 

What causes an abscess tooth?

Technically the infection causes the abscess, but it’s the cavity or hole that allows the infection to get inside the tooth or the gum. Cavities are caused by dental caries or tooth decay. Dental caries is the wearing away of the enamel on a tooth caused by bacteria in the mouth. Dental caries is caused by eating abrasive foods or foods that have a high sugar content and by drinking liquids that have acids in them. If you eat a lot of sweet foods or drink a lot of sweet fruit juice or soda that are made up of sugar and acidic compounds you are causing dental caries. You can also contribute to tooth decay when you don’t brush your teeth twice a day, floss daily, or get regular dental cleanings that clean your teeth and gums. 

It’s also possible to develop cavities and not even realize it if you’ve had an injury to your teeth. If you were in a car accident, fell off your bike, or injured your teeth in some other way you could have cavities developing and not know it until the cavity had reached the core of the tooth exposing the root and leaving the tooth vulnerable to infection. Knowing the various stages of the formation of an abscess may help you recognize when you’re developing an abscess and seek treatment.

Stages of a tooth abscess

What does an abscessed tooth look like? Paying attention to changes in the appearance of your teeth can help you spot an abscess before it gets too bad. Sometimes it’s just not possible to stop the formation of an abscess, especially if it’s due to an injury. But making sure that you’re practicing good oral hygiene including brushing regularly and flossing daily is a good start to protect your teeth. You should also watch for any of these signs of the formation of an abscess to prevent a painful dental emergency. 

White spots

If you can stop the formation of the cavity at this stage you can avoid a nasty abscess altogether, so you should pay close attention to your teeth when you’re brushing and flossing each day. The bacteria in your mouth will feed off of the sugars in the things you eat and drink and start to eat away at the enamel on your teeth. If you start to see uneven white spots on your teeth or if your teeth have what look like chalky patches or streaks don’t wait to get to a dentist for a thorough cleaning. You should also pay more attention to your brushing and flossing to get rid of as much of the bacteria as possible. 

Enamel decay

By the time the dental caries reaches this point you should see a noticeable different in the appearance of your teeth. The bacteria is now inside the tooth enamel, demineralizing the tooth from inside. Your teeth might look transparent or have patches that look different than your other teeth. 

Dentin decay

As the bacteria continues to break down the enamel of the tooth it will expose the dentin which surrounds the pulp of the tooth. You won’t be able to see this but you will start to feel it. The bacteria will begin to infiltrate and feed on the dentin which can cause significant pain, although not as much pain as having a root exposed. No amount of pain in your teeth is normal, so if you have any pain in a tooth you should see a dentist right away if you can. There are home remedies that can help with the pain but you should take that pain seriously and not assume it’s normal. It’s not. 

Infection of the pulp

If the bacteria isn’t dealt with when it gets to the dentin it will continue eating its way through the tooth until it gets to the pulp and the root of the tooth. When this area inside the tooth becomes seriously infected you will experience sharp pain in the tooth. A dentist will be able to take X rays at that point to see how deep the infection is and whether or not more serious steps like a root canal are necessary. 

Abscess formation

Abscess formation happens when the infection has eaten all the way through the tooth and has reached the very sensitive nerve inside the tooth. The infection also can burrow into the jaw at that point. If the abscess forms in the gum between teeth and gets deep into the gum it can cause gum disease and even bone loss inside the mouth. When the infection hits the root of the tooth you will know it because the pain will be excruciating and impossible to ignore.

Symptoms of a tooth abscess

In the early stages it can be tough to tell if your symptoms are due to a tooth abscess or something else because many of the symptoms that indicate you have a tooth abscess can also indicate other health problems. The most common symptoms of a tooth abscess are:

  • Pain 

  • Swelling of the cheek and face

  • Red or angry looking gums

  • Constant bad taste in the mouth 

  • Fever 

The most reliable symptom of a tooth abscess is pain, because when your tooth or gums are painful and sensitive you can be sure there is some sort of a problem with your teeth. Usually you will experience some pain as the abscess breaks through the enamel to the actual center of the tooth so if you start to feel pain in your tooth don’t ignore that. Don’t wait until the pain is searing and intense when the infection hits the root of the tooth to get it treated. 

This is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office.

Links to external sites are provided for your convenience in locating related information and services. Guardian, its subsidiaries, agents and employees expressly disclaim any responsibility for and do not maintain, control, recommend, or endorse third-party sites, organizations, products, or services and make no representation as to the completeness, suitability, or quality thereof.


Insights for the people.

Join our new digital insurance community that includes tips, resources and useful information from Guardian Direct.