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.
One of the most common dental issues in patients of all ages is the development of cavities or tooth decay. Causes for this vary, but the most common are bacteria, sugary drinks or foods, certain health conditions, and the lack of brushing or flossing. You may experience symptoms such as pain or sensitivity or have no idea that one is forming until you visit your dentist for a bi-annual cleaning and exam.
A cavity essentially is a damaged section of tooth enamel that shows up as tiny holes or openings. If left untreated, these openings can grow larger and begin to affect the underlayers in your tooth. As a result, you may experience an increasingly painful toothache, swelling, and infection, or even eventual tooth loss.
One of the best-proven ways to keep cavities away is by practicing good oral hygiene. Brushing and flossing daily accompanied by regularly scheduled visits with your Columbus, OH dentist can help keep your dental health at its best. And when you experience any symptom of a cavity forming, your dentist will know how to detect it. Such detection can be confirmed in a few different ways, including the following.
Visual Inspection and Oral Exam
The first step a dentist will take is to visually inspect your teeth, gums, and the soft tissue of your mouth. Your dentist is looking for any discoloration or damage to your tooth’s enamel. In some instances, cavities can be seen right away. Usually, this occurs with larger cavities in prominent areas.
If no evidence of a cavity is identified, or if your dentist suspects a certain tooth or area may be affected, the next method to detect a cavity is by using a dental explorer or probe. This probe is maneuvered around your teeth and specifically into the crevices between teeth. Any soft spots or sensitivity found to indicate a cavity is most likely present. At this point, the severity of the cavity is difficult to determine, so the next steps of detection may be taken.
Many times, a cavity is not detectable by a visual inspection or probing exam alone. The next step a dentist may take is the snapping of dental x-rays. A cavity in an x-ray appears as a darker shadow or spot on a tooth, while a regular filling will be brighter.
Dental x-rays, a method that has been around for years, help to remove any guesswork on the part of the dentist. Images of the inner and outer tooth are captured, and this helps your dentist discover the cavity and determine how severe it is. Dental x-rays are also a good way to determine when a cavity exists between teeth.
Typically, your dentist will obtain bitewing x-rays, where a small x-ray film is inserted between your teeth, and you bite down, holding it in place. An x-ray image is created, producing an image of that particular part of your mouth. These images include your teeth, soft tissues of the mouth, and your jaw, providing your dentist with information on the overall health of your teeth. Hidden structures, such as wisdom teeth and any bone loss, may also be revealed.
For identifying cavities deep in your back molars are other difficult-to-access areas, some dentists may use a Dental Cone Beam CT. The use of this device can provide more thorough x-rays of your jaw, teeth, and overall facial structure, creating a three-dimensional head image for further evaluation.
Laser Cavity Detection
Cavities can start out as microscopic defects under the tooth’s tough enamel. Oral exams and x-rays can’t always diagnose decay on the subsurface level of your tooth. For this, your dentist may turn to the use of a laser cavity detection device.
With this device, lightwave refraction is used. A wand scans the surface of your teeth within seconds. For areas where you have healthy teeth enamel, the light will pass through easily. If decay is present, the light will bounce or reflect back. In turn, the exact location, size, and shape of the cavity can be determined. Your dentist will also see how large and deep the cavity is.
More accurate than x-rays, the laser cavity detection device is completely safe. It can provide a wider, more exact view of the cavity, helping the dentist determine the best treatment options going forward.
Your dentist may only need to use one of these cavity detection methods or a combination of them to obtain the most information possible. From there, together you can discuss whether a filling will suffice or if you need to consider other options such as replacing the damaged tooth with a crown or other measures.
Contact Lifetime Dental Health for all Your Dental Needs
The earlier a cavity is caught, the better. If you are currently suffering from any of the symptoms of a cavity, including toothache or sensitivity, contact our office at 614-321-1887 to schedule an appointment. If you haven’t had your bi-annual cleaning and exam, we can schedule that also. Our compassionate, professional staff look forward to helping with whatever dental needs you may have now or in the future.
Dental cavities, which dentists may refer to as caries, or tooth decay represent holes in the teeth forming when acid in your mouth (oral cavity), erodes your tooth enamel. Untreated cavities or tooth decay can not only cause toothaches, but they can result in infections and tooth extractions. Individuals of all ages can have tooth decay.
Having the proper dental care, including flossing, brushing, and regular checkups with a dentist in Columbus, OH, can help prevent tooth decay.
Causes of Tooth Decay
Our mouths are chock-full of bacteria. While some good bacteria are certainly helpful, others can be harmful, including those that play a tooth decay role. The food combines with these bacteria to form a sticky, soft film named plaque. The bacteria present in plaque use the starch and sugar in the foods and drinks we consume to produce acids.
The acids begin to erode the minerals in the enamel. Over time, the plaque can turn into tartar. In addition to damaging the teeth, plaque and tartar can also irritate your gums and cause gum disease. If you don’t take care of your teeth and/or eat and drink too much sugar or starch, your enamel will continue to lose minerals. This leads to tooth decay.
Symptoms of Cavities
At the onset of tooth decay, there are usually no symptoms. As tooth decay worsens, it can cause:
Brown or white spots on the tooth’s surface
Sensitivity of the teeth to sweets, heat, or cold
Diagnosis Cavities/Tooth Decay
Having dental checkups at least twice a year is the best way to detect cavities early when the dentist can save a large part of the tooth. A tooth with decay or a cavity will be softer when the dentist examines it. You can also do dental x-rays. X-rays show cavities before the decay becomes visible.
Our dentists can usually identify tooth decay in the following ways:
Asking about sensitivity or toothache
Examining your teeth and mouth
Using dental instruments to probe your teeth to check soft areas
Having a look at dental X-rays, which can show the extent of decay and cavities
Our dentist will also be able to tell you which of the three forms of cavities you have: pit and fissure, smooth surface, or root.
Treatments for Cavities/Tooth Decay
Regular checkups can help identify cavities and tooth decay before they lead to more serious problems. The earlier you seek help, your chances to reverse the early stages of tooth decay and prevent its progression are greater. If tooth decay is treated before it starts causing pain, you probably won’t need extensive treatment. Options for treatment include:
Fluoride treatment: If tooth decay has just started, fluoride treatment can help restore tooth enamel and reverse tooth decay in the early stages. Fluoride treatments contain more fluoride than the amount found in toothpaste, tap water, and mouthwashes. Fluoride treatments can be liquid, gel, or foam that are brushed onto your teeth or placed on a small tray that fits your teeth.
Dental Crowns: For weakened teeth extensive decay, a crown may be needed. This is a custom-made cover that replaces the entire natural crown of your tooth. Your dentist drills the entire damaged area and enough of the rest of the tooth to ensure a good fit. Crowns can be made of gold, high-strength porcelain, resin, metal-fused porcelain, or other materials.
Dental Fillings: Fillings, also referred to as restorations, are the primary treatment option when tooth decay has progressed beyond the initial stage. Various materials are used for fillings, such as porcelain, tooth-colored composite resins, or dental amalgam.
Root canals: When the cavity or decay finds its way to the pulp (which is inside the tooth), it may be necessary to have a root canal. Instead of removing a tooth, this treatment repairs and saves a tooth that is infected or damaged badly. The pulp of the diseased tooth is removed. Sometimes, a drug is inserted into the root canal to clear any infection. The pulp is then replaced by a filling.
Tooth extractions: Some teeth are so badly damaged that they cannot be restored and must be removed. Extracting one tooth can leave a gap allowing the other teeth to move. If possible, consider getting a bridge or dental implant to replace the missing tooth.
Good oral hygiene and regular dental checkups are essential to prevent tooth cavities or decay. New dental treatments, including fluoride rinses, and dental sealants, have reduced the risk of tooth decay in children and adolescents. Adults with dental fillings from childhood can develop cavities around the edges of old fillings. It is advisable to ask one of our dentists, Dr. Love, Dr. Barry, or Dr. DiDonato what steps you can take to protect your oral health and prevent tooth decay.
Book Your Dental Exam and Cleaning at Lifetime Dental Health
Are you due for a dental exam and cleaning? Along with brushing and flossing daily, visiting us twice a year for a dental exam and cleaning is one of your best defenses to prevent cavities. Don’t ignore your oral health. Call us at 614-321-1887 or book your appointment online.