Your teeth are composed of nerves, blood vessels, connective tissue, and enamel. When a tooth is damaged, either from bacteria (an untreated cavity), prior dental work or trauma, or decay, a tooth infection can form.
A tooth infection can happen to anyone. People who have weak immune systems, smoke, cannot keep up with regular dental hygiene, or have dry mouths are more likely to get tooth infections. Cavities, or holes in the teeth from decay, are very common and can easily be filled by any dentist. However, if cavities are left untreated, further damage can occur, leading to an infected tooth that needs more serious treatment.
What Is an Infected Tooth?
An infection occurs in the body when bacteria begins to invade and spread. For example, someone who has pneumonia has a bacterial infection of the lungs and needs treatment. A child who has an ear infection will usually be prescribed antibiotics to fight off bacteria. An infected tooth occurs when bacteria find entrance into damaged teeth. This bacteria then starts to spread, furthering the infection.
Teeth infections might present as abscesses, which cause intense pain secondary to pockets of pus in the teeth. Such infections can spread to the gums, surrounding teeth, bones, or blood and body. This is what makes treating an infected tooth extremely important.
Symptoms of an Infected Tooth
Below are some symptoms that might indicate a tooth infection or infected teeth. These symptoms are listed to help you identify possible manifestations of this issue at home. If you believe you have any of these symptoms, please contact our Lifetime Dental Health team to set up an appointment.
Tooth pain or toothache
Tooth sensitivity to hot or cold foods
Pain when eating or chewing
Disagreeable taste in your mouth
Fever or subjective fever at home
Neck swelling (lymph nodes will appear swollen)
Tenderness of the mouth, gums, or teeth
Loosening or loss of the tooth
Drainage of a sore in the mouth, especially near the tooth socket
Sometimes tooth pain can present as sharp, burning, gnawing, throbbing, aching, or dull. Any level of pain in the tooth could indicate infection or some other dental problem, so ensure that you follow up with a professional.
Effects of a Tooth Infection
Symptoms of a tooth infection, like pain or sensitivity while eating, can often be disruptive to your life. Unfortunately, in a tooth that is infected, these symptoms will not resolve on their own. The only way for these symptoms to resolve is with treatment.
Common treatments for a tooth infection include:
Incision and drainage: The team at Lifetime Dental Health cuts into the infected area, opening a small pocket that allows for bacteria-filled pus to drain. This removal of pus leads to healing.
Root canal: Our team drills into the center of the tooth, removing the pulp, which contains infected nerves and vessels. The tooth can survive without pulp if it is a mature adult tooth. Afterward, a crown is typically placed to protect the tooth.
Antibiotics: These are typically given supplementally to an incision and drainage or root canal procedure to fight off remaining bacteria.
Tooth extraction: if an infection is severe, the tooth might need to be removed from the socket to prevent the infection from spreading to other teeth or the body.
Even if you feel comfortable managing the symptoms of an infected tooth, you can experience surprising and unexpected complications that can arise from leaving an infected tooth untreated. Many people do not realize how interconnected dental health is to the health of the rest of the body, and that their teeth are connected to the vascular, or blood, system, and nervous system.
Surprisingly, an infected tooth can lead to three unique adverse effects: sepsis, meningitis, and Ludwig’s Angina.
Sepsis is a bacterial infection of the blood that is typically moderate or severe and must be treated with intravenous (IV) antibiotics in a hospital setting. People who are more at risk of getting sepsis are elderly adults, people with weakened immune systems, people with medical conditions, and children. However, anyone with an untreated infected tooth is at risk for sepsis.
High fever, swollen lymph nodes, rapid heart rate, entire body aches are emergent signs that sepsis has occurred. Someone with these signs should immediately seek emergency care.
Other signs of sepsis include shortness of breath and hyperventilation. The skin might appear to be pale or mottling, or an abnormal blue-ish tie-dye color of the skin. Sepsis is a serious complication. Early treatment of sepsis is crucial to knocking out the infection and protecting one’s body.
Another unknown possible effect of an untreated tooth infection is meningitis. Because bacteria have the ability to move from a tooth to the bloodstream, bacteria also have the ability to invade the nervous system. The nervous system includes the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerves, and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).
Once bacteria get into the nervous system, they can cause inflammation and damage to the brain and spinal cord. A severe manifestation of this inflammation is a bacterial disease called meningitis. Bacterial meningitis is another serious effect that can lead to prolonged hospitalization and be life-threatening.
Signs of meningitis include neck rigidity, difficulty moving the neck from side to side, pain in the neck, fever, prolonged and severe headaches, decreased level of consciousness, altered mental status, fatigue, and even seizures. It’s surprising that an infected tooth can lead to meningitis, and it is a risk that not many people know. Please seek emergency treatment if these symptoms develop.
Thirdly, a surprising effect of an infected tooth is the development of Ludwig’s Angina. This complication occurs when bacteria from the infected tooth spread to the throat. Throat pain, throat swelling, shortness of breath, difficulty speaking, difficulty swallowing, difficulty eating, difficulty breathing, fever, neck pain, and ear pain can be common symptoms of Ludwig’s Angina.
If this adverse effect develops, it is typically treated with antibiotics. A person who feels shortness of breath or difficulty breathing should seek emergency care. Throat swelling can prevent you from getting the oxygen you need, and in some cases, leads to intubation, or stabilization of the airway with a tube. This is one of the most severe scenarios for Ludwig’s Angina.
These three surprising effects may be interesting and intimidating. However, now that you are knowledgeable about the causes and effects of an infected tooth, you are prepared to seek out treatment in a timely manner if suspicious of a tooth infection.
If you think you have an infected tooth and want to get your teeth assessed, contact us here at Lifetime Dental Health.
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