Can tooth infection spread?
A tooth can get a bacterial infection creating pus that dentists call an abscess. This abscess can occur at different areas around a tooth for different reasons. A periapical abscess occurs at the tip of the tooth’s root usually due to an untreated dental cavity, an injury, or from prior dental work.
The dentist can treat a tooth abscess by draining it and getting rid of the infection. The tooth can then be saved with a root canal treatment. In some cases, the tooth may need to be pulled. Leaving a tooth abscess untreated can lead to serious, even life-threatening, complications.
What are the symptoms?
- Severe, persistent, throbbing toothache that can radiate to the jawbone, neck or ear
- Sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures
- Sensitivity to the pressure of chewing or biting
- Swelling in your face or cheek
- Tender, swollen lymph nodes under your jaw or in your neck
- Sudden rush of foul-smelling and foul-tasting, salty fluid in your mouth and pain relief, if the abscess ruptures
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Sometimes, there are no symptoms, but a lesion can be seen in the dental radiograph.
When should I see the dentist?
If you have any signs or symptoms of a tooth abscess, contact your dentist right away. However, if you have a fever and swelling in your face and you cannot reach your dentist, go to an emergency room. Also go to the emergency room if you have trouble breathing or swallowing. These symptoms may indicate that the infection has spread deeper into your jaw and surrounding tissue or even to other areas of your body.
What causes an abscess?
A periapical tooth abscess occurs when bacteria invade the dental pulp. This is the innermost part of the tooth that contains blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue. Bacteria enter either through a dental cavity or a chip or crack in the tooth and spread all the way down to the root. The bacterial infection can cause swelling and inflammation at the tip of the root. Untreated periodontal disease can also cause a periapical abscess. Bacterial infection in the gums can find its way down the side of the tooth, reach the end, and infect the nerve endings causing an abscess.
What factors increase my risk for an abscess?
Several factors may increase your risk of a tooth abscess:
- Poor dental hygiene – Not taking proper care of your teeth and gums, such as not brushing your teeth twice a day and not flossing, can increase your risk of tooth decay, gum disease, tooth abscess, and other dental and mouth complications.
- A diet high in sugar – Frequently eating and drinking foods rich in sugar, such as sweets and sodas, can contribute to dental cavities and turn into a tooth abscess.
- Dry mouth – Having a dry mouth can increase your risk of tooth decay. Dry mouth is often due to the side effect of certain medications or aging issues.
A dental abscess will not go away without treatment. If the abscess ruptures, the pain may decrease, or even go away, but you still need dental treatment. If the abscess does not drain, the infection may spread to your jaw and to other areas of your head and neck. You might even develop sepsis which is a life-threatening infection that spreads throughout your body. If you have a weakened immune system and you leave a tooth abscess untreated, your risk of a spreading infection increases even more.
How can I prevent an abscess?
Avoiding tooth decay is essential to preventing a tooth abscess. Take good care of your teeth to avoid tooth decay:
- Use fluoridated drinking water.
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.
- Use dental floss or an interdental cleaner to clean between your teeth daily.
- Replace your toothbrush every three or four months, or whenever the bristles are frayed.
- Eat healthy food, limiting sugary items and between-meal snacks.
- Consider using an antiseptic or a fluoride mouth rinse to add an extra layer of protection against tooth decay.
- Visit your dentist for regular checkups and professional cleanings.
In summary, it is always best to see your dentist or medical doctor if you suspect you have a dental abscess. Consider going to the emergency room if the abscess feels like it is going down your throat or is compromising your airway. The dentist can either drain the abscess, remove the tooth, or treat the tooth with a root canal if you do have an abscess.