What is a Palatal Abscess?

front tooth abscess

This is an abscess – but it’s not on the palate.

Many patients will come to a dental office stating something to the effect of “I have an abscess” or “I have this bump here so it must be an abscess.” But what is an abscess? And more specifically, what is a palatal abscess? In this post, we will not only describe it to you, but we will show you incredibly detailed photos!

An Abscess Defined

Before we talk about a specific type of dental abscess – a palatal – let’s first define what an abscess is:

A circumscribed collection of purulent exudate appearing in an acute or chronic localized infection frequently associated with swelling and other signs of inflammation.

A more simplified definition would be:

A localized collection of pus associated with an infection.

We can further define an abscess based upon the location, consistency of the pus, and other variables. For this post, we are focusing on abscesses located on the palate (the roof of your mouth).

So a Palatal Abscess is Associated with the Palate?

A drawing of a palatal abscess

Diagram of a palatal abscess.


A palatal abscess is a collection of pus associated with an infected tooth that drains onto the palate (a.k.a. roof of the mouth).

When an infection with a tooth develops, it most often begins at the tip of the root deep inside the bone. The infection expands within the bone, with pressure building. Ultimately, the infection perforates the bone, and enters the soft tissue, which creates a swelling.

In a palatal abscess, the infection spreads from the tip of the root towards the palate, resulting in swelling on the roof of the mouth near the offending tooth.

Palatal Abscess Photo #1

The photo below was taken in my dental office in Orange, CT. She developed a LARGE swelling on the roof of her mouth on the right hand side:

Upper right molar palatal abscess

Palatal Abscess associated with a fractured upper right molar. Clicking on the photo will show you all the gory details! Photo courtesy Dr. Nicholas Calcaterra.

In the above case, this 70 year old female split her upper right molar in half. This lead to an infection which culminated in a large palatal swelling. The solution was to remove the tooth and drain the abscess – which I did! Within a week, she was back to normal (except she no longer had the tooth).

Palatal Abscess Photo #2

This photo was taken on a mid 20s female. You are looking up at her palate. The infected tooth was #7 – her right maxilary lateral incisor. You notice a LARGE swelling.

Palatal Abscess with a maxillary lateral incisor

Abscess on the palate associated with an infected upper lateral incisor. Clicking on the photo will show you incredible detail. Photo and subsequent treatment by Dr. Nicholas Calcaterra.

Treatment for this patient involved draining the abscess and then performing a root canal. I am pleased to report that the treatment succeeded and that she still has the tooth!

Palatal Abscess Photo #3

This patient in her mid 70s developed swelling in the upper left. She called us but was not able to arrange transportation to see us for approximately 48 hours. In the interim, we prescribed antibiotics for her, which she began taking. When she arrived, she reported that there had been a swelling, but it had suddenty went down rapidly, accompanied by a metallic taste.

Palatal abscess that perforated and drained

Palatal Abscess that grew very large – and then ulcerated and drained. Photo and treatment performed by Dr. Nicholas Calcaterra.

In the above photo, the tissue is only slightly swollen now, but there is now a large ulceration. Treatment involved extracting the offending tooth. She was much happier after the tooth was gone!

I hope you enjoyed this post and the photos. I have dozens more photos. Want to see more? Leave a comment and I’ll post more.