Updated 07 September 2015

Answer: What's your diagnosis? – Case 26

Mrs D woke up one morning with a swelling on the right side of her face. It turns out that a dental abscess might be the cause of her problem.


Based on her history and examination, Mrs D is most likely suffering from a dental abscess. In such cases patients classically experience a swelling of the face. Only when asked if they suffer from toothache will patients admit that a tooth has been giving them problems. On examination, the suspicious tooth should be noticed.

All swellings should be examined by a doctor

Dental abscesses can be very painful, but in some cases the patient will not necessarily experience pain, only swelling. The patient might have spiking fevers. Abscesses should be treated as quickly as possible. The patient will be referred to a dentist to remove the affected tooth and drain the abscess. The dentist will prescribe antibiotics.

Read: Facial Swelling

Distinguishing between abscesses and other causes of facial swelling is not always straightforward. One has to exclude allergic reactions and also make sure the swelling is not affecting the airways of the patient. Ear, nose and throat causes need to be excluded. In the absence of dental problems, an ENT surgeon will examine the patient and exclude soft tissue growths (which develop over time, rather than overnight), and infections of the nose, sinus cavities and ears.

In the case of sudden onset swelling, a medical opinion is urgently needed – especially if the overlying skin is red, tender and the patient has fever, facial weakness or draining of fluid or pus from the mouth or nasal cavities. All swellings should be examined by a doctor.

NOTE: Health24's on-site GP Dr Owen Wiese reveals new cases on Thursdays. The answer is posted with the story on Mondays, or you can get it in our Daily Tip – sign up here.

Previously on What's Your Diagnosis?

What's your diagnosis? -  Case 1: vomiting and weight loss

What's your diagnosis? -  Case 2: eye pain

What's your diagnosis? -  Case 3: strange behaviour and a bullet in the back

What's your diagnosis? -  Case 4: seeing odd things

What's your diagnosis? - Case 5: mysterious lungs

What's your diagnosis? - Case 6: runner with seizures

What's your diagnosis? - Case 7: swollen knee

What's your diagnosis? - Case 8: bloody semen

What's your diagnosis? - Case 9: confusing neurological signs

What's your diagnosis? - Case 10: diabetic teenager with unusual signs and symptoms

What's your diagnosis? - Case 11: bruising with no apparent reason

What's your diagnosis? - Case 12: severe tummy pain

What's your diagnosis? - Case 13: severe sore throat

What's your diagnosis? - Case 14: abdominal pain and swelling

What's your diagnosis? - Case 15: the world is spinning

What's your diagnosis? - Case 16: numbness in forearm

What's your diagnosis? - Case 17: burning urine

What's your diagnosis? - Case 18: boy with persistent fever

What's your diagnosis? – Case 19: lady who can't lose weight

What's your diagnosis? – Case 20: chest pain next to breastbone

What's your diagnosis? – Case 21: burning sensation in vagina

What's your diagnosis? – Case 22: vomiting and headaches

What's your diagnosis? – Case 23: frequent urination

What's your diagnosis? – Case 24: painful and swollen leg

What's your diagnosis? – Case 25: swollen knee and fever

Dr. Owen J. Wiese is Health24's resident doctor. After graduating from Stellenbosch University with additional qualifications in biochemistry and physiology he developed a keen interest in providing medical information through the media.


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Live healthier

Exercise benefits for seniors »

Working out in the concrete jungle Even a little exercise may help prevent dementia Here’s an unexpected way to boost your memory: running

Seniors who exercise recover more quickly from injury or illness

When sedentary older adults got into an exercise routine, it curbed their risk of suffering a disabling injury or illness and helped them recover if anything did happen to them.