The Effects of Dexamethasone on the Time to Pain Resolution in Dental Periapical Abscess

Georgia P. Baumann, Whitney Robertson, Ashley Guinn, Kurt Curtis, Kate Morizio, Daniel Jarrell, Christopher Edwards, Scott Lowry, Dale Woolridge, Noah Tolby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Dental infections are frequently encountered in the emergency department (ED), with periapical abscesses being among the most painful. Traditional pain management strategies include local anesthetic injections, oral analgesics, and intravenous opioids. Objectives: We sought to identify an alternative pain management strategy with early use of dexamethasone as adjunct to conventional therapies for inflammation and pain at the site of infection. Methods: We conducted a prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study comparing the analgesic effect of dexamethasone and placebo in ED patients with periapical abscess during a 2-year timeframe at two urban academic EDs. Adult patients presenting with physical examination findings consistent with a diagnosis of periapical abscess were randomized to receive oral dexamethasone or an identical placebo. Pain was assessed using the verbal numeric scale in person at discharge and via telephone at 12, 24, 48, and 72 h after discharge from the ED. Results: Seventy-three patients were enrolled, with 37 receiving dexamethasone and 36 receiving placebo. Follow-up pain scores were obtained for 52 patients at 12, 24, 48, and 72 h. Ten patients from the dexamethasone group and 11 from placebo group were lost to follow-up. Patients who received dexamethasone reported a greater reduction in pain at 12 h compared with the placebo group (p = 0.029). Changes in pain scores from baseline and at 24, 48, and 72 h were not statistically significant. No adverse events were reported. Conclusions: Single-dose dexamethasone as adjunct to conventional medical management for pain caused by periapical abscess demonstrated a significant reduction in pain 12 h post treatment compared with placebo.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)506-511
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2021


  • apical abscess
  • dental abscess
  • dental infection
  • dental pain
  • dexamethasone
  • periapical abscess
  • pulpitis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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