Tooth infections range from mild to severe. They typically begin with a toothache that gets worse with time. Left untreated, tooth infections can spread to other parts of the body, potentially resulting in life-threatening conditions.
Some common causes of tooth infections include:
Plaque is a by-product of food particles and saliva that contains cavity-causing bacteria. These bacteria (Streptococcus mutans) damage your teeth and gums over time, leading to cavities.
If a cavity becomes large enough, it will eventually reach the nerve of a tooth. This process allows bacteria to accumulate deeper into the tooth. An infection will start developing over time as the bacteria reach the nerves.
Neglected oral care, plaque buildup, and diets high in sugar are the leading causes of tooth decay.
If a cavity is left untreated for too long, a dental abscess can form.
A dental abscess is the most common type of tooth infection. Abscesses develop from a bacterial infection that usually begins in a tooth’s soft pulp.
Tooth damage can allow bacteria to spread to deeper parts of the teeth or gums, resulting in an infection.
People with weakened immune systems, diabetes, and those taking certain medications (like steroids) are also at a higher risk for developing tooth infections.
Tooth infections can be caused by cavities, dental abscesses, or tooth damage, among others.
Common symptoms of an infected tooth include:
Abscesses can burst on their own, and the pain may diminish. However, it is essential to seek dental treatment because the bacteria can still spread beyond the tooth.
Symptoms of a tooth infection spreading to the body include:
Tooth infections can spread, potentially causing life-threatening infections in other areas of your body. Severe pain and flu-like symptoms are common signs of spreading.
A dental abscess can also travel to the brain, leading to the development of another abscess. If the infection reaches your brain, it can be life-threatening.
Since a brain abscess is so dangerous, the condition requires a visit to the hospital or emergency room for urgent treatment. A brain abscess is relatively rare but can occur if the dental infection is left untreated.
Symptoms of a brain abscess (cerebral abscess):
Dental abscesses can lead to brain abscesses (in rare cases). This is why you should never leave them untreated. Vision changes and body weakness on one side are common with brain abscesses.
Poor oral hygiene and neglected dental care allow the harmful bacteria in your mouth to cause infections. Eventually, an untreated tooth infection (abscess) can make you sick.
If left untreated, a dental abscess can have serious consequences on your oral health and entire body.
If you suspect you have a dental abscess, don’t wait until it ruptures to seek treatment. Dental infections should be treated promptly to prevent the spread of the infection.
Common symptoms of a dental infection (abscess) that requires urgent dental care include:
Tooth abscesses are dental emergencies. They need to be drained by a professional quickly to prevent spreading. A noticeable sore and severe, throbbing pain are the most common symptoms.
If you wait too long to treat a tooth infection, it can begin spreading to other areas of your body, including the neck, head, or jaw. A general dentist must professionally drain an abscessed tooth by extracting it or performing a root canal.
Usually, this includes draining pus and bacteria, which is why some people are actually unaware they have an infection. It is unpredictable to determine how long a dental abscess will drain until it stops and causes facial cellulitis (swelling).
You should never pop or squeeze an abscess because the infection can be pushed deeper into the tissues of your mouth.
Risks of not treating a tooth infection promptly:
If you don't receive prompt treatment for an abscess, it can lead to tooth loss, additional infections, sepsis, and even a brain abscess (rare). Never pop an abscess.
A dental abscess infection is always considered a dental emergency. Any visible gum swelling (with pain or not) can be life-threatening if not treated quickly.
During emergency treatment for a dental abscess, the surgeon will open up the abscess and drain it. This will relieve pressure and reduce any pain associated with the infection.
You will also receive prescription antibiotics to help clear the infection.
To prevent tooth infections and cavities, you should:
Depending on the cause of the tooth infection, treatment may include:
During this procedure, your dentist will make a small incision into your gums and drain the abscess. They will drain all of the pus out before stitching it back up to ensure the bacteria is removed.
If your tooth is severely damaged or decayed, extraction will likely be necessary. You’ll need a dental implant after the tooth is surgically removed, which can cost up to $4,000.
Root canal treatment is necessary if you have a large cavity that has spread to the tooth’s pulp. This treatment can also involve abscess draining.
During the procedure, your dentist will remove the infected dental pulp and drain the abscess.
The root canal is cleaned, shaped, and sealed. Then a dental crown is placed on top of the root canal treated tooth.
Antibiotics are commonly prescribed to treat dental abscesses. After the abscess is drained, your dentist may prescribe antibiotics to clear up the remaining infection. Antibiotics alone do not cure abscesses.
Depending on the severity of your abscess or infection, you may need oral antibiotics or IV antibiotics.
If you have a root canal-treated tooth — but are still experiencing a toothache — an apicoectomy may be necessary. This is a minor dental surgery that removes the apex (or the tip of the tooth's root).
Sepsis is a serious medical condition where the immune system overreacts to a blood infection. It can occur if you ignore a severe toothache.
Left untreated, sepsis can lead to septic shock. This is when the blood pressure drops significantly, potentially causing organ failure and death.
If you develop sepsis, you'll need to visit an ICU (intensive care unit). Fluids and IV antibiotics will be used to treat this condition.
If your organs are severely damaged, additional treatments may be necessary.
Treatment options for tooth infections include drainage (most common), root canal treatment, an apicoectomy, antibiotics, and sepsis treatment (rare).
Amoxicillin and penicillin are commonly prescribed to help treat dental abscesses.
Antibiotics alone cannot treat tooth infections (abscesses). If a dental abscess is asymptomatic, you may require a root canal or extraction and will not need antibiotics. The source of the infection is what needs to be addressed and treated.
It’s crucial to practice good dental hygiene to prevent tooth infections. This includes drinking fluoridated water, brushing your teeth twice a day, using dental floss daily, and replacing your toothbrush every three months.
Throbbing tooth pain can be an indicator of an infection. An abscess may be present if you also notice any gum swelling, tooth sensitivity, or have a fever. Call your dentist immediately if you suspect you have a dental abscess or if it ruptures.
Yes, a common symptom of a tooth infection spreading to the body is stomach discomfort and may include pain, vomiting, and/or diarrhea.
You may feel chronically tired or fatigued if you have a dental abscess, primarily if the infection spreads.
Sepsis is one of the risk factors of an untreated dental abscess. It develops in response to an active infection that triggers a reaction throughout your entire body. This condition is rare but life-threatening.
An abscess accompanied by a rapid heartbeat, nausea, vomiting, confusion, and chills may indicate septicemia. Seek immediate medical attention if this occurs.
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