Emergency management of acute apical abscesses in the permanent dentition: a systematic review of the literature

J Can Dent Assoc. 2003 Nov;69(10):660.


Objective: To perform a systematic literature review and meta-analysis on the effectiveness of interventions used in the management of acute apical abscess in the permanent dentition.

Methods: Electronic databases were searched from their inception to March 2002. These searches, combined with manual searching, yielded 85 citations, of which 35 were relevant. Independent application of inclusion criteria by 3 reviewers yielded 8 eligible randomized controlled studies. Data on population, interventions, outcomes (reduction of pain or swelling or both, as reported by patients or clinicians) and methodological quality were determined by independent triplicate review. Disagreements were resolved by consensus.

Results: All papers included in the meta-analysis compared an antibiotic with an active control, a placebo or no pharmacotherapy as an adjunct for patients who had received concomitant therapy (i.e., incision and drainage, endodontic therapy or extraction). The 8 trials were randomized; in 3 of these, the method of randomization was described and appropriate. Five studies were double-blinded, and 2 of these described the method of blinding. Four trials described withdrawals, but none included an intention-to-treat analysis. Six studies compared 2 antibiotics. For the outcomes "absence of infection"and "absence of pain" the pooled odds ratios (ORs) were not statistically significant; for the outcome "absence of pain and infection," 3 studies showed an equivalent treatment effect in both treatment and control groups. One open-label study (with a quality score of 2) showed a result favouring azithromycin over co-amoxiclav (OR 0.58, 95% confidence interval 0.35-0.96). Two studies compared adjunctive antibiotic therapy with placebo; no benefit to patients was demonstrated with this intervention.

Conclusions: In the management of localized acute apical abscess in the permanent dentition, the abscess should be drained through a pulpectomy or incision and drainage. This analysis indicated that antibiotics are of no additional benefit. In the event of systemic complications (e.g., fever, lymphadenopathy or cellulitis), or for an immunocompromised patient, antibiotics may be prescribed in addition to drainage of the tooth.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Dentition, Permanent
  • Emergency Treatment / methods*
  • Humans
  • Periapical Abscess / drug therapy*
  • Periapical Abscess / surgery*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Research Design
  • Review Literature as Topic


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents