How to Pop a Dental Abscess by Yourself (and Why Not To)
Can You Pop an Abscess at Home?
If you're reading this article, you understand exactly what it's like to be put through the pain of an abscess in your mouth. Even if you're lucky enough to only be experiencing pain on the mild end of the scale, that can be bad enough. Many people, myself included, have experienced abscesses that literally take your breath away, make your heart race, and put thoughts in your head that you would never normally entertain.
One of those thoughts is likely to be, "Can I just pop the damn thing?"
The answer is yes, you can.
I've had plenty of tooth infections, abscesses, extractions, and painful dental conditions. So while I may not be a trained medical professional, I am certainly not ignorant of the health issues, pain factors, and safety concerns of oral health. I've also had plenty of opportunities to explore home remedies, one of which is popping or lancing an oral or dental abscess.
What Are the Risks of Lancing an Abscess?
While you may assume little could go wrong when you lance an abscess, assumptions like this get people into serious trouble, especially when it comes to oral abscesses.
Popping your abscess will definitely bring you instant relief—in case you were wondering—but if you're not careful, it can also bring on a whole new set of problems.
- You could make the infection worse. This could happen, for example, if you lance your abscess with a non-sterile instrument, throw up after the abscess bursts, or don't clean your mouth thoroughly after the abscess is drained. If any of this happens, you could introduce even worse bacteria into your mouth, and you don't want to see what happens next.
- You can get sick if you swallow any of the pus, blood, fluids or debris that can come out of your abscess. Your body made the abscess specifically to trap and segregate all of that stuff. So you don't need any of that in your digestive system or bloodstream. Even a small amount of pus down the hatch can spell big trouble if the infection was bad enough; your oral hygiene is poor; or your diet/general health has been lacking.
- It can be extremely painful and messy if you lance an abscess that is not quite ready to be lanced. Like fruit, abscesses have a way of ripening and preparing themselves to be burst. If you lance an abscess before it is ready to pop, it can be much more painful than it should be, and it might not fully drain or might refill.
- You run the risk of poking a vein with the instrument you use to pop the abscess, which means you may bleed a lot more than is necessary. There are several important veins in your mouth and around your gums, which dentists are trained to avoid. You're really not going to know where they are, even if you do a quick anatomy lesson. If you're taking any anti-inflammatories or blood thinners, bleeding could mean a trip to the urgent care center.
- If the abscess is near your neck or throat, you need to be extra careful. Any further swelling can be dangerous because it can block your airway or lead to serious heart problems. In fact, if your abscess is along your lower jawline and is large or is growing, go to a hospital now for IV antibiotics and professional lancing before that abscess does you in. It can be that serious. Doctors and dentists would prefer you err on the side of paranoia and caution than to try to wait it out.
- Even though you may get immediate relief from the pressure and pain of an abscess, you'll still have the pain of the wound and a source of open infection in your mouth. If you don't find the source of the abscess, then you're going to just keep getting abscesses that get worse and worse. What this means is that whatever you do, you still need to see a dentist as soon as possible. Trust me, I don't enjoy the idea any more than you do, but it's necessary if you don't want to be dealing with this issue again and again.
All of the above and more can happen when you decide to play dentist. Sometimes it's worth it and sometimes it's not. This is why I bring up these issues, and it's also why you need to seriously consider them before you go searching through the house for the smallest sharp instrument you can find.
If you choose to do nothing about your abscess, it will most likely continue the ripening process and swell until it bursts. This is actually not a problem for your health, but you will still need dental treatment.
You can also look at it this way: Avoiding the dentist now means even more dental visits later. Visits to much more expensive professionals or multiple visits to your general practitioner or an oral surgeon may involve much more money than the $300 it would cost you for a visit to the dentist. If you're seeking free dental care, you may find that the worse your condition gets, the harder it is to find someone who will treat it. So go and get your mouth taken care of right away and don't wait for the pain or the abscess to get worse.
Use Every Resource You Have
Before you get ready to dig in, do everything you can to learn about your mouth, your health, and the art of popping that sucker just right.
Ask your mother, call your neighbor, talk to your vet, do a google search, or call a local dentist. Most of them are nice enough to explain the best way to lance that abscess, and then you can make an appointment to get checked out after that.
- A needle or other small sharp instrument, for lancing
- Hydrogen peroxide, preferably "food grade"
- Clove oil, as a numbing agent
- Sea salt, as a mouth wash (must be sea salt)
- Latex gloves, if you have them
- Two clean, empty water glasses
How to Pop an Oral Abscess By Lancing It
- First, before you do anything: Wash your hands; 20 seconds of lather minimum, using hot soapy water. Do this before you clean your pots, needle, etc. Do this again before you stick your hands anywhere near your mouth.
- Get out a pot and boil some water to sterilize your needle or another sharp instrument. While you wait, apply a generous amount of clove oil to the area around your abscess to numb it before you go in there.
- Once your water is boiling, drop in the needle or instrument and allow it to boil for at least two minutes. You might consider holding it in the water with a pair of tongs so that you don't have to fish it out into a strainer later. Once you're done, place the needle on a very clean plate and make sure not to touch it until you're ready to use it.
- Take your stuff into a thoroughly cleaned bathroom, or use a sink that is easy to bend over and has been well sanitized. Make sure you have some washcloths nearby. Fill one of your glasses with cool water.
- Put a teaspoon of sea salt into a glass, fill it with water, swirl it around to dissolve the salt, and gargle.
- Take the empty glass, pour two capfuls of hydrogen peroxide into it, and dilute it with three times as much water. Set this glass aside for now.
- If you have latex gloves, put them on before starting.
- Prepare to pop that abscess. Make sure to get yourself mentally ready, as it will take some willpower to poke yourself in the gums, and it's going to taste really, really bad. That being said, you'll also relieve the pressure and make it easier for your dentist to pull the tooth or do a root canal for you when you see them.
- Get your needle or sharp instrument out. Try to position your hand and your fingers comfortably in your mouth where you can lance the abscess with a decent amount of force. You don't want to jab the needle in, but some abscesses are thicker than they seem.
- Being as careful as you can be, you want to force the needle into the sac of the abscess at its tightest or softest point. You have two choices with this: slow and deliberate or the just-get-it-over-with-jab. The first method is where you slowly insert the needle into the abscess until it pops. It can be a bit more painful because it takes longer, but you're also less likely to go deeper than necessary. With the second method, you want to think about how you would quickly pull off a band-aid instead of slowly peeling it off. With a well-aimed poke of decent force (it doesn't take a lot!), that abscess will be draining faster than you think.
- Be prepared to quickly pull your hand away from your mouth and get rid of that needle onto its clean plate. If your abscess is ready to give way, you'll have no problem just leaning over the sink and letting it drain itself silly, at which point you might pass out with ecstasy.
- If the abscess is slow to drain, you'll want to massage your cheek on the side of the abscess or use your fingers to apply pressure inside your mouth near the back of the abscess. Do this until no more pus, blood, or liquid comes out, and then do it a little bit more just to make sure.
- Once you're done, take your mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water, and swish it gently around your mouth. Make sure you spit it all out, and then gargle and spit with clean water to make sure you get everything out of there.
- Keep your mouth as clean as possible, for the next 24 hours especially. Avoid eating much, and stick to water only for a beverage. If you must eat, go with soft food and keep it on the opposite side of the abscess.
How to Drain an Oral Abscess By "Drawing Out the Poison"
This is an alternative method that doesn't require any poking.
- Simply get some sea salt (I'm being very specific!) and baking soda.
- Mix the two together in a bowl with a little bit of water until you have a very thick wet paste.
- Take that paste and plaster it onto your gums where the abscess is and wait near a sink with a towel handy.
- It shouldn't take long for your abscess to burst if it's ready to, and you'll want to be ready to spit and rinse when it happens.
- Rinse with the peroxide-water mixture (1 part peroxide to 3 parts water) and keep your mouth clean.
How to Bring an Abscess to a Head: The Tea Bag Method
Another alternative method is to get a teabag. You want it to be either black, green, or Echinacea tea.
- Take the tea bag and dip it in lukewarm water until it's soft.
- Place that tea bag along the gum line near your abscess.
- Traditionally, this is done overnight, while sleeping on top of a "drool cloth" and next to a bucket, though you can also do this during the day, as long as you keep the teabag in.
- The tea works to "draw out the poison" in the same way that the salt-and-baking-soda trick does, which means that it will thin out the wall of the abscess so it will burst and relieve the pressure.
- After it bursts, make sure you thoroughly clean your mouth and throw away that infection-filled tea bag.
Popping an abscess is not much more fun than having an abscess, though if you're in a great amount of pain, it's one of the best ways to relieve that pain temporarily. Below I've added some videos that can help you on your quest for relief from oral pain caused by an abscess.
No Substitutes for a Good Dentist
I've had my fair share of experiences with dentists, and there's definitely a pattern amongst DDSs in the world of sliding-scale and community dentistry. They're often surly, tired, and underpaid. That being said, they know a heck of a lot more about what they are doing than you do, and more to the point—they have all the tools for the job.
Dentists in traditional clinics are often paid more and have a better attitude, though we all know that a strong bedside manner comes with a big price. You take what you can get in this case, and what you can afford. Just keep in mind that what you cannot afford is to lose your job or your life before your time because you fear the dentist (pain, embarrassment, having the tooth removed, etc.). Get it done and over with now and avoid a future mouthful of pain.
There's just no good substitute for a good dentist. There are plenty of ways you can improve your health and avoid future dental visits through permanent changes in your diet, exercise, and emotional habits, but once you've already got pain, abscesses, or dying teeth, the dentist will be your only salvation.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.