A tooth infection, or dental abscess, is a pocket of pus in a tooth’s pulpy inner chamber, often forming after bacteria make their way in through an opening in the tooth’s enamel surface.
While tooth infections can be quite painful, they tend to resolve quickly when addressed without delay. Untreated, however, dental abscesses can destroy the affected tooth, spread to other areas, and even cause life-threatening complications.
Here at Chester Family Dentistry in Warren, Ohio, we focus on tooth infection prevention and early treatment so you don’t develop complications. Still, when you have a dental abscess, it’s important to recognize the signs of a lingering or spreading infection.
Read on as Dr. Ana Chester explores tooth infections and discusses common indications that one has spread beyond the tooth itself.
Understanding tooth infections
A tooth abscess is a pocket of pus and inflamed tissue from a bacterial infection. While many dental infections develop in the soft core of a tooth, they can also emerge at different places around a tooth, including the tip of your tooth root or your gum and jawbone tissues.
Poor oral hygiene, untreated dental decay, gum disease, dental trauma, and even common dental procedures can cause a tooth infection.
With dental decay or trauma, bacteria invade the tooth pulp through an opening (decay, crack, or chip) in your enamel; with gum disease, an infection that starts in your gum tissues spreads to the root of your tooth or to an opening in the enamel along the gumline.
The buildup of pus and tissue swelling within or around an infected tooth often causes a severe, acute toothache. The pain is typically continuous and often described as sharp, shooting, or throbbing. Other symptoms include:
- Tooth pain when chewing
- Pain that radiates to your jaw
- Foul breath and bitter taste
- Increased dental sensitivity
- Localized gum tissue swelling
- Fever; swollen lymph nodes
If you experience any of these symptoms, make an appointment with Dr. Chester right away.
Abscess treatment aims to cure the infection, save the tooth, and prevent complications. This often means starting a course of antibiotics and taking pain relievers to relieve your toothache and fever.
In some cases, root canal therapy is required to save an infected tooth; in severe cases, you may need surgery to drain the abscess or an extraction for a tooth too damaged to save.
Complications of an untreated abscess
A tooth infection won’t go away on its own. Without prompt and proper care, it can spread to local tissues, and with enough time, to the rest of your body.
If the abscess doesn’t drain, the infection may spread to your surrounding jawbone tissue, gum tissues, the soft tissues inside your cheek, or other areas of your head and neck. If the abscess is in the back of your mouth, the infection may spread to your sinus cavity.
As long as your tooth infection is untreated and spreading, you’re at risk of sepsis, a widespread inflammatory response that can endanger your life without emergency care.
Signs your tooth infection has spread
Sometimes, a tooth abscess ruptures, flooding your mouth with its metallic-tasting pus and providing instant pain relief. While it can be easy to presume the infection is no longer a concern, a ruptured abscess may just be the first sign it’s spreading. Other signs include:
- A general feeling of fatigue and being unwell
- Persistent headaches, jaw aches, or earaches
- Noticeable and uncomfortable facial swelling
- Chills or high fever
- Increased heart rate or lightheadedness
- Unexplained stomach pain, vomiting, or diarrhea
A persistently high fever, dizziness, lightheadedness, a rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, confusion, and digestive problems are potential signs of sepsis and should be treated as a medical emergency.
How to prevent a tooth infection
Prompt treatment of dental decay and gingivitis (early gum disease) can reduce your chances of developing a tooth infection. Similarly, treating dental trauma (enamel chips, cracks, or breaks) right away lowers your infection risk.
Most importantly, cultivating consistent oral hygiene habits — brushing twice daily and flossing thoroughly at least once a day — can help you prevent the tooth decay and gum issues that often set the stage for a dental abscess.
When supported by twice-yearly dental cleanings and exams, these habits can help you maintain optimal oral health for life.
To learn more or schedule a visit at Chester Family Dentistry, call 330-315-6255 today.