7 Reasons a Tooth Infection Can Endanger Your Health

Don't ignore a tooth infection

Understanding How a Tooth Infection Could Impact You

When you’re having an issue with one of your teeth, it’s easy to brush it aside as an isolated issue—one that only affects that tooth. The truth, however, is that every aspect of your oral health is also tied to your overall health. This can be a good thing because having great oral health can help you stay healthier overall. But, it also means that when you’re struggling with an oral health issue, it can impact your overall health as well. An abscessed or infected tooth is particularly dangerous, more so than you might think.

As a result, understanding tooth infections, how they impact your overall health, and why it’s so important to treat them is an incredibly important part of staying healthy. Thankfully, you don’t have to learn all this information on your own. That’s where we come in! We’ve put together a guide to help you learn more about tooth infections and how they can impact you. 

How do I know if my tooth is infected?  

You don’t always know when you have a tooth infection because it is possible to have a “silent” infection. This is when the infection goes unnoticed because it’s painless. In general, though, one of the biggest signs of a tooth infection is a toothache. In milder cases, you might only feel tooth pain or discomfort when you’re chewing, while more severe cases can cause a constant throbbing or ache in your tooth, sometimes spreading into your jaw.

You may also notice that the tooth is more sensitive to temperature and sweet foods, often getting a sudden, shooting pain when exposed to any of these things. Aside from tooth pain, though, there are several other major symptoms of a tooth infection or abscessed tooth that you can look out for, including:

  • Fever
  • Swelling in your gums, face, or jaw
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Persistently bad breath
  • Bad taste in your mouth
  • Pockets of pus between gums and teeth as infection spreads

You may not have all of these symptoms, and several of them can be caused by other oral health issues like gum disease, but if you notice any of them, it’s important to call and schedule a visit with Dr. King as soon as possible for a diagnosis. If you have a fever or swelling, it’s important to call us right away to schedule an emergency dental appointment. Dr. King can tell you exactly what’s going on and come up with a plan to get your oral and overall health back in the best shape possible! 

How did my tooth get infected?

There are several ways your tooth can get infected. Perhaps the most well-known cause is an untreated cavity. When the cavity reaches the center of the tooth, called the pulp, it can cause it to become infected. A failing filling or untreated damage to a tooth, such as a chip, crack, or break, can eventually lead to a tooth infection as well. Failing filings are particularly hard to spot at home because it might not even feel loose. Despite this, the seal is broken, letting bacteria underneath it to the softer tooth beneath where you can’t clean.

This is a major reason why going to your dentist for regular checkups is so important! During your regular dental checkup, Dr. King will be able to examine your teeth and spot issues like failing fillings or painless dental cavities that you would have missed at home, allowing him to treat them before they cause major issues. 

What happens if I wait a while and just see what happens?

When you wait just to see what happens with a tooth infection, bad things don’t necessarily happen immediately. You might not notice any changes for a little while, but that doesn’t mean that it’s getting better or even that it’s simply staying the same. When you leave a tooth infection untreated, it can cause serious issues with your oral and overall health. It’s important to be aware of these issues so that you know how important it is to take steps to prevent these issues now. 

It won’t go away on its own.

The only way to treat a tooth infection is to remove the source of the infection, so your tooth infection simply won’t go away on its own. Antibiotics alone can’t treat it, either. The only way to resolve it is to get it treated as soon as possible to remove the source of the infection before it becomes a bigger issue! Below are six of the bigger problems you can expect if a tooth infection is not treated. 

1. Infection can spread to the surrounding jawbone tissue.

An infected or abscessed tooth can eventually spread to the surrounding jawbone tissue, leading to a much bigger infection. This infection can lead to bone loss and can even be life-threatening if left untreated. Treatment usually involves antibiotics but sometimes requires surgery as well.

 2. It can cause an infection in your sinuses.

The roots of some of your teeth are surprisingly close to your sinus cavity, sometimes even extending into it. As a result, when these teeth become infected, the infection can easily spread to the tissues in your sinus cavity and result in a sinus infection. Even if you treat this initial sinus infection, it can keep coming back, becoming a chronic issue until you treat your tooth infection as well. 

3. It can cause a deep abscess in your neck.

The infection in your tooth can also spread to the tissues of your neck, potentially leading to a deep abscess in your neck called a parapharyngeal abscess. This type of abscess can cause severe swelling all the way down the side of your neck, potentially even compromising your airway, which makes it very dangerous. It often needs to be treated through a combination of antibiotics and surgery to drain the infection.

4. It can spread to any organ of the body, including your brain.

When you have a severe tooth infection, bacteria can make its way into your bloodstream. From here, it can spread to any of your organs, including your brain. These infections can easily be life-threatening, which is why tooth infections are considered dental emergencies. 

5. It can lead to meningitis.

Bacteria from a tooth infection can also travel through your body to cause meningitis. Meningitis is a life-threatening condition where the membranes around your spinal cord and brain become inflamed. Bacterial meningitis is particularly dangerous and often requires hospitalization, so it’s important to do everything you can to prevent it. 

6. It can lead to sepsis.

Sepsis is a condition where your immune system overreacts to an infection in your blood. It has several potential causes, but one of them is bacteria from a tooth infection making its way into your bloodstream. Sepsis can be life-threatening and can damage your organs, potentially leading to long-term complications. It’s most common in young children, older people, and people who have weakened immune systems or certain preexisting conditions.

What can be done for a tooth infection?

Thankfully, treating a tooth infection as soon as possible can help prevent these issues—and the sooner you get your tooth infection diagnosed and treated, the easier your treatment process is likely to be! Exactly what your treatment will involve depends on a few factors, including the location of your tooth infection or tooth abscess, how severe it is, and whether it has spread. A root canal may be necessary to remove the infected tooth pulp and save the infected tooth. When a root canal isn’t enough, you may need an endodontics treatment called an apicoectomy, which involves removing the end of an infected tooth root.

Sometimes, though, even the best treatments modern endodontics has to offer can’t save an infected tooth. In this case, you may need a tooth extraction paired with a tooth replacement option like an implant. No matter what treatment Dr. King recommends to remove your tooth infection at the source, he will likely prescribe antibiotics to help you fight off any remaining areas of infection. This is particularly true if your tooth infection has already spread.

Don’t wait and see, schedule a consultation today!

Since a tooth infection has the potential to cause so many serious health effects if it’s left untreated, it’s vital to treat it as soon as possible. We know it’s tempting to wait to see if it will go away on its own, but we promise it won’t! The best thing you can do is call Dr. King right away. Doing so will hopefully prevent you from needing more invasive treatments and will protect you from the health effects of a spreading infection. If you notice any signs of a tooth infection or have questions about what’s considered a dental emergency, feel free to schedule a consultation with Dr. King at our Virginia Beach family dentistry office at any time.

King Dental