Updated on February 9, 2024
8 min read

9 Symptoms a Tooth Infection Is Spreading

NewMouth is reader supported. We may earn a commission if you purchase something using one of our links. Advertising Disclosure.

Tooth Infection Symptoms

Common symptoms of a tooth infection include:

  • Throbbing, severe pain in the tooth, mouth, or jaw
  • Swelling in the mouth near the affected tooth
  • Constant or spontaneous mouth pain
  • Tooth pain caused by hot/cold foods and drinks
  • Swelling of the face, cheeks, or neck
  • Bad breath and/or taste in the mouth
  • Swollen or tender lymph nodes
  • Fever (severe cases)

Symptoms of Tooth Infection Spreading to the Body 

Without treatment, a tooth infection may spread to other body parts. Typically, it takes a few days to weeks for the infection to spread from the tooth to other body parts.

If your tooth infection is beginning to spread, you will likely feel generally unwell and present with specific symptoms. 

Symptoms that a tooth infection has spread to other parts of the body include:

Feeling Unwell

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Fever 
  • Flushed skin
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Increased body temperature

Swelling

  • Difficulty opening your mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Severe, painful swelling of the gums, cheek, or face

Dehydration

  • Darker urine
  • Less frequent urination

Other Symptoms

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased breathing rate (25+ breaths a minute)
  • Confusion, lightheadedness

Symptoms of Tooth Infection Spreading to the Brain

A dental abscess can travel to the brain. Once there, it can develop another abscess, known as a cerebral abscess. 

If the infection has spread and reaches your brain, it can be life-threatening. A brain abscess, while rare, requires urgent medical treatment.

Symptoms of a brain abscess include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Visual changes
  • Body weakness on one side
  • Seizures
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Personality changes
  • Going in and out of consciousness

If you suspect that you or your child may have a brain abscess, please seek medical treatment immediately.

Your doctor will perform an MRI or CT scan to make a diagnosis. If they find an abscess, they will likely perform other tests to determine its origin.

Signs of Tooth Infection Spreading to the Mediastinum

Another potential risk of neglecting a tooth infection is the possibility of it spreading to the mediastinum. 

The mediastinum is the name of the chest cavity structure that holds your heart and other critical structures (like your trachea, esophagus, and thymus gland). It sits between your pleural cavities, which hold your lungs.

When bacteria from a tooth infection spread to the mediastinum, it can result in a condition known as mediastinitis. 

Symptoms of Mediastinitis

Mediastinitis is a rare complication that can result from an untreated tooth infection. Without prompt treatment, it can quickly become life-threatening.

Symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever
  • Chills

If you show signs of mediastinitis in conjunction with your tooth infection, please seek medical treatment immediately.

Symptoms of Tooth Infection Spreading to the Blood

A tooth abscess that goes untreated for too long can spread to the blood, resulting in sepsis (blood infection). Sepsis is a serious, life-threatening condition; seeking emergency medical care is crucial. 

Early symptoms of sepsis include:

  • Fever
  • Change of mental state or disorientation
  • Clammy or sweaty skin
  • Chills
  • Severe discomfort

Once you are septic, the condition can progress into septic shock within 12 to 24 hours. Septic shock causes your blood pressure to drop to a dangerously low level, which can result in death.

If you experience any of the above symptoms of sepsis, please seek emergency medical care immediately.

Symptoms of Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis

Although rare, cavernous sinus thrombosis is a life-threatening blood clot that can develop as a response to an untreated infection in the face or skull. The clot can develop in as few as five to 10 days from the onset of a dental abscess.

Cavernous sinus thrombosis occurs when the body detects the infection and attempts to prevent its spread by forming a blood clot in the head. However, in doing so, it traps the infection and prevents blood from flowing out of the brain. 

Symptoms include:

  • Severe headache
  • Bulging or swelling around the eyes (one or both)
  • Pain in or inability to move the eyes (one or both)
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Facial numbness
  • Fever
  • Seizure

Left untreated, cavernous sinus thrombosis can lead to confusion, sleepiness, coma, and eventual death. Although the condition is rare, it has a 33% fatality rate.

If you suspect that you have cavernous sinus thrombosis, please visit your local emergency room immediately.

When to See a Doctor

Don’t wait until your dental abscess ruptures to seek treatment. Visit the doctor promptly to prevent the spread of the infection.

Common symptoms of a dental infection that requires urgent treatment include: 

  • Noticeable pimple under the gums (collection of pus)
  • Swelling and inflammation near the affected tooth
  • Bad taste in the mouth
  • Loose tooth
  • Fever
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Tooth pain
  • A severe, throbbing toothache that doesn’t resolve
  • Swollen and painful lymph nodes in the neck
  • Pain when chewing or biting down

You should schedule a dental appointment if you have a toothache or mouth swelling. It’s best to catch an infection early. 

The longer you leave it, the more likely it is to become life-threatening.

Early Progression of a Tooth Infection

A bacterial infection in the tooth’s soft pulp can lead to a dental abscess. A dental abscess is a collection of pus and bacteria that surrounds the infection.

Dental abscesses can burst on their own. The pain may diminish, but it can damage the gums, nerves, and surrounding tissue. Bacteria can also still spread beyond the tooth. 

If you suspect you have an infected tooth, visiting your dentist as soon as possible is essential. It won’t go away by itself. 

Early treatment will prevent the infection from developing further and spreading to other body parts.

What are the Causes of Tooth Infection?

There are different causes of a tooth infection. 

Here are the most common ones:

1. Cavities

If a cavity becomes large enough, it will reach the nerve of a tooth. This allows bacteria to accumulate deeper into the tooth. An infection will develop over time as the bacteria reach the bone surrounding the tooth. 

The leading causes of tooth decay include:

  • Neglected oral care
  • Plaque buildup
  • A high-sugar diet

2. Tooth Damage

Tooth damage allows bacteria to spread to deeper parts of the teeth, bone, or even the bloodstream. Bacterial spread can lead to infection. 

Additional risk factors for developing a tooth infection include:

  • A weakened immune system
  • Diabetes
  • Certain medications (like steroids)

How to Prevent a Tooth Infection

Practicing excellent oral hygiene at home and visiting the dentist regularly are the best ways to prevent tooth infections. The cleaner and healthier you keep your mouth, the less likely you are to develop problems.

Some suggestions for maintaining your oral hygiene include:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day 
  • Use a fluoridated toothpaste
  • Floss daily
  • Rinse with mouthwash before bed
  • Limit sugar intake
  • Get professional teeth cleanings and dental check-ups at least every six months

Treatment Options for Tooth Infections

Depending on the cause of the tooth infection, treatment may include:

Dental Abscess Treatment (Drainage)

Your dentist will make a small incision into your gums. They will drain the abscess to remove the bacteria-containing pus from the gums.

Don’t attempt to drain an abscess yourself. You should never pop or squeeze an abscess. If you do so, the infection can go deeper into the tissues of your mouth and/or cause a secondary infection.

Tooth Extraction

Extraction may be necessary for a severely damaged tooth. A possible treatment option for the missing tooth is to get a dental implant after surgery, which can cost up to $4,000. 

Root Canal Treatment 

If your cavity spreads to the tooth’s pulp, you may need a root canal. During the procedure, your dentist will remove the infected dental pulp. This treatment can also involve abscess draining.

Your dentist will clean, shape, and seal the root canal. Once the tooth heals and there is no swelling, they will likely place a dental crown on top of the treated tooth.  

Antibiotics

Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic to prevent the infection from spreading. Antibiotics can be prescribed before, during, and after the incision and drainage procedure.

Antibiotics can help clear up any remaining infection but don’t cure abscesses. If the infection is severe, you may require IV antibiotics and hospitalization.

Apicoectomy

Sometimes, your toothache and infection may persist after a root canal. If so, you may need an apicoectomy, which is a minor dental surgery.

An apicoectomy involves a surgical incision at the root of the gums, drilling away a portion of the end of the tooth root. This procedure removes any infected tissue and seals the tooth from the root end. 

Sepsis Treatment

Sepsis occurs when an infection spreads to the bloodstream. It can happen if you ignore a severe toothache.

If you develop sepsis, you must visit the intensive care unit (ICU). Your doctors will use fluids and IV antibiotics to treat sepsis. You may need additional treatments if you have severe organ damage.

Summary

Various factors can cause tooth infections. The best way to prevent a tooth infection is to care for your teeth properly. 

If your tooth infection worsens or spreads, inform your doctor immediately. They will recommend an appropriate treatment plan to help you get better.

Last updated on February 9, 2024
11 Sources Cited
Last updated on February 9, 2024
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Abscessed Teeth.” American Association of Endodontists, 2022.
  2. Awasthi, M. “Antibiotics in Dental Practice.” Manual for Dental Hygienist, 2018.
  3. Dar-Odeh NS, Abu-Hammad OA, Al-Omiri MK, Khraisat AS, Shehabi AA. “Antibiotic prescribing practices by dentists: a review.” Ther Clin Risk Manag. 2010
  4. Hupp, JR., and Ferneini, EM. “Head, Neck, and Orofacial Infections: an Interdisciplinary Approach.” Elsevier, 2016.
  5. King, C. Textbook of Pediatric Emergency Procedures. Kluwer, Lippincott, Williams, and Wilkins, 2008.
  6. Dental abscess.” NHS Choices, NHS, 2022.
  7. Sanders, JL. “Dental Abscess.” StatPearls [Internet]., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2020.
  8. Patel, K., and Clifford, DB. “Bacterial Brain Abscess.” The Neurohospitalist, SAGE Publications, 2014.
  9. Roberts et al. “Dental Emergencies.” Western Journal of Medicine, Copyright 2001 BMJ Publishing Group, 2001.
  10. Shweta, and Prakash, SK. “Dental Abscess: A Microbiological Review.” Dental Research Journal, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, 2013.
  11. What Is a Root Canal?” American Association of Endodontists, 2017.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram