Periodontal Abscess and its treatment

Periodontal abscess is a localized acute bacterial infection confined to the tissues of the periodontium and not arising from the tooth pulp. It is an acute destructive process in the periodontium resulting in localized collections of pus communicating with the oral cavity through the gingival sulcus or other periodontal sites (Figure 28.1). It is the third most frequent dental emergency, representing 7–14% of all dental emergencies and affecting 6-7% of all patients 1. It is formed as a result of rapidly growing bacteria within a periodontal pocket, resulting in abscess formation. It is a frequent periodontal condition in which periodontal tissues may be rapidly destroyed. Periodontal abscesses may result in complications, due to bacteremia, that may cause infection in distant locations 2-3.

Figure 28.1 Clinical photograph of a patient with periodontal abscess

Periodontal abscess

 Clinical features of periodontal abscess

Periodontal abscess may be acute or chronic in its onset. An acute exacerbation in chronic cases can be seen in some cases. The clinical features of periodontal abscess include,

  • The patient complains of pain, which is throbbing in an acute periodontal abscess and dull and gnawing in a chronic periodontal abscess.
  • Edema and redness at the affected
  • The involved tooth is sensitive to lateral percussion.
  • Increased mobility of the involved
  • Increased probing depth. Bleeding or purulent exudates on probing.
  • Suppuration can be spontaneous or may be present on putting lateral pressure on the involved surface of gingiva.
  • Draining sinus may be present.
  • In chronic cases, bone loss can be seen in the radiographic
  • In delayed cases of periodontal abscess, the patient may have lymph node enlargement, fever, and malaise.


Diagnosis of the periodontal abscess is made depending upon the chief complaint of the patient, medical/dental history of the patient and clinical and radiographic examination. Development of periodontal abscess is usually associated with pre-existing periodontitis. Drainage of the abscess may be spontaneous with slight provocation. It is important to note that periodontal abscesses do not always drain from the same surface of the root where the periodontal pocket is present. Further, radiographic examination and status of the pulp provide important information regarding swelling. Radiograph taken with a gutta percha cone gently guided into the periodontal pocket to the site of the abscess may provide an idea regarding the origin of the abscess. A radiolucency on the lateral surface of the root suggests periodontal abscess, although it may not be present in many cases (acute periodontal abscess). Widening of the periodontal ligament can be seen in the involved tooth.

Classifications of periodontal abscess 1,4

Classification according to the anatomical location:

Gingival abscess: In this case, abscess involves the marginal gingiva or the interdental papilla

Lateral periodontal abscesses/ parietal abscesses: In this case, abscess is present adjacent to the periodontal pocket that may lead to the destruction of periodontal ligaments and alveolar bone.

Combined periodontal/ endodontic abscesses: In this case, the localized, circumscribed abscess which either originates from dental pulp or the periodontal tissues surrounds the root apex and/or the apical periodontium of the involved tooth.

Pericoronal abscesses: This is localized purulent infection within the tissue surrounding the crown of a partially erupted tooth.

Classification according to the duration of the disease:

Acute periodontal abscess:

When the abscess develops during a short period of time, within days or a week, it is called as an acute periodontal abscess. There is sudden onset of pain on biting and a deep throbbing pain in the involved tooth. The gingiva appears red, swollen and tender 5-6 (Figure 28.2). In the early stages, there is no fluctuation or pus discharge, but as the disease progresses, the pus and discharge from the gingival crevice become evident. Lymph node enlargement may be evident as the duration of infection prolongs.

Figure 28.2 Acute periodontal abscess on the lateral aspect of first molar

Acute periodontal abscess

Chronic periodontal abscess:

In this case, the infection is of prolonged duration and the abscess develops slowly (Figure 28.3). Because of prolonged duration, the involved tooth may become mobile and tender. Pain is usually of low intensity as compared to acute periodontal abscess. Pus may be present and discharges from the gingival crevice or from a sinus in the mucosa overlying the affected root.

Figure 28.3 Chronic periodontal abscess

Chronic periodontal abscess

Classification according to the etiology:

Periodontitis related abscess: When acute infection originates from the microbial biofilm in deepened periodontal pocket.

Non-Periodontitis related abscess: When the acute infection originates from another local source e.g., foreign body impaction, alteration in the root integrity.

Etiology of periodontal abscess

The periodontal abscess usually develops in an association with moderate to deep periodontal pockets 7-8. Other etiological factors include incomplete calculus removal, embedding of foreign body, uncontrolled diabetes mellitus, tooth perforation or root fracture. Following are the various causes of periodontitis and non-periodontitis related abscesses,

Periodontitis related abscess:

  • Deep and tortuous periodontal pockets 1.
  • Marginal closure of a periodontal pocket that may lead to an extension of the infection into the surrounding periodontal tissues due to the pressure of the suppuration inside the closed pocket 9-11.
  • The changes in the composition of the microflora, bacterial virulence, or in host defenses could also make the pocket lumen inefficient to drain the increased suppuration 12.
  • Treatment with systemic antibiotics without subgingival debridement in patients with advanced periodontitis may also cause abscess formation 13-15.

Non-periodontitis related abscess:

  • Due to impaction of foreign bodies such as a piece of dental floss, a popcorn kernel, a piece of a toothpick, fishbone, or an unknown object 16-18.
  • Perforation of the tooth wall by an endodontic instrument 1,19.
  • Due to infected lateral cysts 12.
  • Anatomical factors affecting the root morphology like the presence of cervical cemental tears may also predispose to periodontal abscess formation 10, 20, 21.

Know more……

Multiple periodontal abscesses:

Multiple periodontal abscesses are usually associated with increased blood sugar and an altered immune response in diabetic patients. Therefore, the assessment of the diabetic status through testing of random blood glucose, fasting blood glucose or glycosylated hemoglobin levels is mandatory to rule out diabetes as the underlying etiological factor for periodontal abscesses.

Microbiology of periodontal abscess

Periodontal abscess microbiota is usually indistinguishable from the microflora found in the subgingival plaque in chronic periodontitis 11. It has been reported that around 60% of cultured bacteria from periodontal abscess are strict anaerobes, especially Gram-negative anaerobic rods and Gram-positive facultative cocci 11. It has been demonstrated that……


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One study has proposed the presence of enteric and non-fermenters Gram-negative rods in periodontal abscess, which according to the authors have a potential role in the rapid tissue destruction observed in periodontal abscesses 25. Studies have demonstrated that bacterial species with a capacity of producing proteinases, such as P. intermedia may increase the availability of nutrients and, thereby, facilitating an increase in the number of bacteria inside the abscess 26-27.

Table 28.1 Differences between gingival and periodontal abscess

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Table 28.2 Differences between periodontal and periapical abscess

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Recommended treatment for periodontal abscess

Treatment of periodontal abscess is done in two steps,

  • First and foremost is the management of the acute lesion.
  • Later on, appropriate treatment of the original and/or residual lesion is done once the acute situation has been controlled.

Drainage of abscess through pocket is usually the first treatment that is given to the patient. It is followed by scaling of the tooth surface, compression and debridement of the soft tissue wall and irrigation with antibiotic solutions. If a foreign body is present in the pocket it should be removed. Oral hygiene instructions are given to the patient. Systemic antibiotic and anti-inflammatory treatment is started and the patient is recalled for re-assessment within 24-48 hours. Systemic antibiotic treatment for the dental abscess prevents any bacterial spread and serious complications 27-29.

Usually, the abscess is drained through pocket retraction. However, if the lesion is sufficiently large, pinpointed and fluctuating, an external incision can be made to drain the abscess. Local anesthesia (nerve block is preferred) is applied in the involved area. Swelling is isolated with a gauge piece. A vertical incision is done through the…….


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Recommended antibiotic treatment:

Culture sensitivity testing of organisms involved in periodontal abscess before starting antimicrobial therapy is not feasible in many cases because it is an acute condition requiring immediate treatment and also obtaining a clean bacterial sample for culture is difficult. Following antibiotics are recommended for empirical use 1, 32,

  • Phenoxymethyl penicillin 250-500 mg, 6 hourly for 7-10 days.
  • Amoxycillin/ Augmentin 250- 500 mg 8 hourly for 7-10 days
  • Metronidazole 250 mg, 8 hourly for 7-10 days (Can be combined with amoxicillin. The use of metronidazole is contraindicated in pregnant patients/ consumption of alcohol)
  • Tetracycline HCl 250 mg, 6 hourly for 7-14 days
  • Doxycycline 100 mg, twice daily for 7-14 days (the use of tetracycline is contraindicated in pregnant patients and in children under 10 years of age.)


Periodontal abscess is a relatively common condition in patients with moderate to deep pockets. The patient usually presents with pain and discomfort. Periodontal abscess needs to be differentiated from periapical and gingival abscess. Also, conditions like poorly controlled diabetes may lead to multiple abscesses for which the underlying cause needs to be treated. No specific organisms have been found to be particularly associated with periodontal abscess; instead, the microbial composition in periodontal abscess has been found to be close to organisms found in deep periodontal pockets. Drainage of abscess and removal of the etiological agent is required for healing of involved tooth supporting structures.


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