Symptoms of Tooth Infection Spreading to Body

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Types of Tooth Infections & Causes

Tooth infections, or dental infections, can range from mild to severe (even deadly if left untreated). A cavity can become large enough that it eventually reaches the nerve of a tooth. This allows bacteria to accumulate deeper into the tooth. An infection will start developing over time as the bacteria reach the nerves.

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. Plaque, which is a by-product of food particles and saliva, contains cavity-causing bacteria. This bacteria (Streptococcus mutans) damage your teeth and gums over time, leading to cavity formation. 

dental abscess

If a cavity is left untreated and becomes large enough, a dental abscess can form. Neglected oral care, plaque buildup, and diets high in sugar are the leading causes of tooth decay. To prevent tooth infections and cavities, you should:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day 
  • Use fluoride toothpaste
  • Floss daily
  • Rinse with mouthwash before bed
  • Eat a healthy diet (limit the intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates)
  • Get professional teeth cleanings every six months

Dental damage can also allow bacteria to spread to deeper parts of the teeth or gums, resulting in an abscess. People with weakened immune systems, diabetes, and those taking certain medications (like steroids), also have an increased risk of developing a tooth abscess. 

Can Infected Teeth Make You Sick?

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. 

When to Worry About a Tooth Infection

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: 

  • Noticeable sore 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 sensitivity
  • A severe, throbbing toothache that doesn’t go away
  • Swollen and painful lymph nodes in the neck
  • Pain when chewing or biting down

How Long Can a Tooth Infection Go Untreated?

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 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 a 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:

  • Tooth loss
  • Infection of the blood vessels inside the sinuses
  • Bone infection surrounding the tooth
  • Sepsis (a serious medical condition where the immune system overreacts to a blood infection)
  • Brain abscess (rare, life-threatening infection)
  • Parapharyngeal abscess (abscess at the back of the mouth)

Symptoms of Tooth Infection Spreading to the Body 

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:

  • Fever
  • Severe and painful gum swelling
  • Dehydration
  • Increased heart rate 
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Increased body temperature
  • Stomach pain 
  • Fatigue

Symptoms of Tooth Infection Spreading to the Brain

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. 

Common symptoms of a brain abscess (cerebral abscess):

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

When is a Tooth Infection an Emergency?

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. 

Tooth Infection Treatment Options

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

Dental Abscess Treatment (Drainage)

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 

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

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. 

Other Common Questions and Answers

What is the best antibiotic to treat a tooth infection?

Amoxicillin and penicillin are commonly prescribed to help treat dental abscesses.

Can you treat a tooth infection without antibiotics?

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.

How can I prevent tooth infections?

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. 

Does a throbbing tooth mean infection? 

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. 

Can tooth infection cause stomach problems?

Yes, a common symptom of a tooth infection spreading to the body is stomach discomfort and may include pain, vomiting, and/or diarrhea.

Can a tooth infection cause you to feel tired?

You may feel chronically tired or fatigued if you have a dental abscess, primarily if the infection spreads.

How do you know if you have sepsis from a tooth infection?

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. 

Resources

“Abscessed Teeth.” American Association of Endodontists, https://www.aae.org/patients/dental-symptoms/abscessed-teeth/.

Awasthi, Maj. “Antibiotics in Dental Practice.” Manual for Dental Hygienist, 2018, pp. 109–109., doi:10.5005/jp/books/14199_21.

Dar-Odeh, Najla Saeed, et al. “Antibiotic Prescribing Practices by Dentists: a Review.” Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management, Dove Medical Press, 21 July 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2909496/.

Hupp, James R., and Elie M. Ferneini. Head, Neck, and Orofacial Infections: an Interdisciplinary Approach. Elsevier, 2016.

King, Christopher. Textbook of Pediatric Emergency Procedures. Kluwer, Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2008.

NHS Choices, NHS, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/dental-abscess/.

Sanders, Justin L. “Dental Abscess.” StatPearls [Internet]., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 26 Aug. 2020, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493149/.

Patel, Kevin, and David B Clifford. “Bacterial Brain Abscess.” The Neurohospitalist, SAGE Publications, Oct. 2014, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4212419/.

Roberts, Graham, et al. “Dental Emergencies.” Western Journal of Medicine, Copyright 2001 BMJ Publishing Group, July 2001, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1071467/.

Shweta, and S Krishna Prakash. “Dental Abscess: A Microbiological Review.” Dental Research Journal, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, Sept. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3858730/.

“What Is a Root Canal? | American Association of Endodontists.” American Association of Endodontists, 2017, www.aae.org/patients/root-canal-treatment/what-is-a-root-canal/.

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