A tooth infection (sometimes called a dental abscess) is a pocket of bacteria and pus in your tooth. Left untreated, this tooth infection can spread to other parts of your body and may even lead to death.
1 in 2,600 Americans visits the hospital for a tooth infection. A dental abscess is common and dangerous. You must know how to identify signs of tooth infection and treat them if you see those signs.
Can a tooth infection affect your whole body? Yes, a tooth infection can affect your whole body. In severe cases, a dental infection can spread to your face, sinuses, neck, jawbone, blood, and even your entire system.
Infection vs. abscess — An infection of bacteria can lead to an abscess (AKA a pocket of pus). These terms are often used interchangeably, even though they are slightly different.
If you’re worried about a potential tooth infection, schedule an appointment with Rejuvenation Dentistry. We have decades of experience with minimally invasive treatments that never expose your body to toxins like mercury.
Signs of Tooth Infection
What kind of symptoms can a tooth infection cause? The first signs of a tooth infection include:
- Tooth pain
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- Bad taste in the mouth
- Heat or cold sensitivity
- Change in tooth color
How a Dental Abscess Can Impact Your Health
Beyond bad breath and sensitivity to extreme temperatures, a dental abscess can seriously impact your overall health. An untreated tooth infection can spread to other areas of your body and cause systemic health issues such as sepsis, pulmonary actinomycosis, and a brain abscess.
How common is it for tooth infections to spread to the body? It is rare for tooth infections to spread to other parts of the body. If left untreated, dental infections usually take weeks or months to spread.
Below are medical conditions that an untreated tooth abscess may lead to:
- Osteomyelitis — an infection of the bone surrounding your infected tooth
- Periapical abscess — an abscess at the tip of your tooth’s root
- Parapharyngeal abscess — a pocket of pus at the back of your oral cavity
- Cellulitis — an infection of the skin and fat right under your skin
- Sepsis — when your blood gets infected, at which point your immune system can severely overreact, leading to life-threatening illness
- Cavernous sinus thrombosis — an infection of the blood vessels within the sinuses
- Pulmonary actinomycosis — an infection in your lungs
- Brain abscess — when a pocket of bacteria swells in your brain, which can lead to death
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Symptoms of a Tooth Infection Spreading to the Body
Here are the signs of a tooth infection spreading to the rest of your body:
- Feeling generally sick
- Extreme sensitivity to cold or hot food and drink
- Severe toothache from the tooth outward
- Swelling in the gums, neck, cheeks, or tongue
- Constant bad breath
- Rancid taste in the mouth (probably when an abscess ruptures)
- Difficulty swallowing
- Constant dehydration
- Higher heart rate
- Increased breathing rate
- Tender, swollen lymph nodes
- Loss of consciousness
Call your dentist immediately if you believe you have developed a systemic infection from a tooth abscess or get to the nearest emergency room. This is often a medical emergency.
Is a tooth infection something you can die from? If left untreated, a tooth infection can lead to brain, lung, and heart problems that you can die from in the most severe cases. Untreated dental infection can also swell your tongue or mouth, which may severely restrict breathing.
What Causes Tooth Infections?
Tooth infections are caused by bacteria entering your inner tooth via a cavity or a chip in the tooth. The resulting infection can lead to an abscess (pocket of pus) at the tip of the tooth’s root.
Tooth infections are more likely if you experience any of these causes and/or risk factors:
- Compromised immune system — If you have a weak immune system, your body is less prepared to fight off tooth infections.
- Cracked or chipped tooth — Bacteria can get into cracked or chipped teeth, leading to a tooth infection.
- Damaged dental work — Fillings, crowns, and root canals can get damaged, leaving a crack for bacteria to get into and cause infection.
- Dental cavities — Tooth decay (AKA cavities) can get deep enough that bacteria may seep in and cause infection.
- Dry mouth — Certain medications, dehydration, sleeping with your mouth open, and old age can lead to dry mouth. Having a dry mouth is a breeding ground for harmful bacteria.
- Excess plaque — Excess plaque can build up if you don’t brush your teeth and floss. A high-sugar diet encourages excess plaque formation. Plaque is mainly bacteria, which are also the culprits in tooth infections.
- High-sugar diet — Harmful bacteria feed on sugars and carbohydrates from sweets, sodas, breads, etc. Limiting your sugar intake should slow the growth of harmful bacteria in your mouth.
- Injury to teeth or gums — If your gums or teeth are damaged, bacteria might sneak into any wound and cause infection. (A gum infection is called periodontal disease, gum disease, or gingivitis.)
- Poor dental hygiene — You should brush your teeth and floss to remove plaque on and in between your teeth. Letting plaque run wild can allow bacteria into your pearly whites and cause an abscessed tooth.
- Smoking or chewing tobacco — Tobacco causes many health problems, including poor oral hygiene, cancer, and vulnerability to bacterial infection.
What can you do to help prevent tooth infection from spreading? You can take multiple steps to prevent a tooth infection from starting or spreading:
- Brush your teeth twice a day using a sonic toothbrush.
- Floss or use interdental brushes once a day to remove plaque from in between your teeth.
- Consider a natural mouthwash that can fight the bad bacteria in your mouth.
- Limit your intake of sugar and carbs. Harmful bacteria feed on sugary foods.
- See your dentist twice yearly. Checkups are crucial for prevention and cleaning.
- Take natural anti-inflammatories (curcumin, fish oil, resveratrol, green tea, etc.) to reduce inflammation. Ibuprofen also works, but you may want to avoid its side effects.
- Avoid conventional root canals. They are invasive and carve out so much of your tooth that infections are more likely to take hold.
Read more: Foods That Are Good For Your Teeth
Below are a few science-backed treatment options for tooth infection, including when the infection has spread throughout your body. These treatments may be home remedies or require a healthcare professional.
Yes, a tooth infection can be treated in a smart, holistic way through biological dentistry.
Your healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics to fight the bacterial infection in your tooth or throughout your body.
Consider natural antibiotics to avoid pharmaceutical side effects and antibiotic resistance.
Coconut oil pulling may reduce harmful bacteria in your oral cavity and help balance your oral microbiome. Oil pulling is good for your oral hygiene, and it can help fight the spread of bacterial infection.
Simply swish 1 tablespoon of coconut oil around your for 5-20 minutes, then spit it into the trash where it will become solid at room temperature.
This is a cheap way to soothe pain and swelling. Saltwater promotes wound healing, so more bacteria can’t make it into your tooth.
Mix ½ teaspoon salt with ½ cup of warm water, then swish around your mouth for 2 minutes. Add a pinch of baking soda for extra antibacterial power.
This non-drinkable liquid is cheap and found in most households. It is an excellent antibacterial remedy for infections like a dental abscess. If you decide to swish this around your mouth to treat the infection, remember not to swallow any of it.
Clove Essential Oil
Apply pre-diluted close essential oil to a cotton swab, and press it gently against the infected area. Use up to 3 times a day to access clove oil’s antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
If you have concentrated clove oil, dilute it with a carrier oil.
Your dentist or doctor may drain the dental abscess of the infected pus to discourage the further spread of the bacteria. You should not do this yourself for safety reasons.
Your dentist or doctor will numb the area, create a small incision, then drain the infected fluid from your tooth.
Root Canal Treatment
A dentist can perform a precise root canal treatment that removes the infected part of your tooth to prevent further spread.
This dental treatment is often unnecessary and harmful, but your dental care professional can discuss whether a root canal is the best choice for you.
Some dentists may simply pull the infected tooth if they deem it necessary. A tooth extraction should stop the spread of infection unless it has already proliferated.
When You Should Call A Doctor
You should call a doctor and seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following severe symptoms:
- Chest pains
- Difficulty breathing
- Extreme sensitivity to light
- High fever (103°F or higher for adults)
- Pain with urination
- Ruptured abscess
- Unexplained confusion
- Unexplained skin rash
- Vomiting excessively
While waiting to see the doctor or dentist, you might slow the infection’s spread by:
- Taking ibuprofen
- Maintaining good oral hygiene
- Eating soft food
- Avoiding hot or cold food and drink
- Chewing on the non-infected side of your mouth
- Limiting intake of sugar and carbs, which harmful bacteria feed on
- Consuming natural antibacterials, such as garlic, honey, and ginger