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Abscessed Tooth

How an Abscessed Tooth Can Damage Your Overall Health

Updated 01/21/2019

Is an abscessed tooth dangerous? Can an abscessed tooth cause sepsis? Canker sores? We hear a lot of these questions from folks who suspect they have an abscessed tooth, and want to know how important it is to get treatment sooner rather than later.

So is an abscessed tooth an emergency? It’s not an immediate emergency in the way that a tooth fraction would be. But it is serious. If left untreated, an abscessed tooth can have a severely negative impact on your overall health.

woman pointing at her abscessed tooth problem to her female dentist

What is an Abscessed Tooth?

An abscessed tooth is actually a pocket of pus resulting from an oral infection. It typically appears at the base or root of the tooth. This infection is usually the result of severe tooth decay that has been left untreated, and can manifest itself as a very bad toothache. These are some of the most common symptoms of an abscessed tooth, according to WebMD:

  • Throbbing pain in tooth or gums
  • Pain when chewing or biting
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Swollen neck glands
  • Red, swollen gums
  • Swollen jaw
  • Open, draining sores on the gums
  • Fever
  • Bitter taste in the mouth
  • Extremely bad breath

How Does an Abscessed Tooth Affect Your Overall Health?

Any infection in the body is cause for alarm. An abscessed tooth represents a severe infection that is located in a part of your body that is uniquely located to spread its damage elsewhere. These are some of the potential consequences:

  • Infected gums can damage the jaw bone and cause teeth to fall out.
  • The infection can spread upwards and lead to a sinus infection.
  • Bacteria from the infection can spread to the heart and lead to a condition called bacterial endocarditis.
  • Abscessed teeth can cause an infection in the face and jaw called Ludwig's angina which can severely restrict the airways.
  • The infection can spread to the brain through blood vessels and lead to a brain abscess. In extreme cases, this can cause the patient to go into a coma.

These last three conditions are particularly dangerous, though they are also (thankfully) rare. Untreated abscess can also lead to something called sepsis, which is a complication of an infection that, in essence, poisons the bloodstream. (So the answer to “can an abscessed tooth cause sepsis” is a clear “Yes!”)

In these more serious cases, you will need to go to the emergency room as soon as possible. Do so if your abscessed tooth comes with:

  • high fever
  • Swelling to the point of difficult swallowing
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Dizziness, fainting, or confusion

What Is Involved in Treating an Abscessed Tooth?

An Abscessed tooth can be very painful, and so you will want to see a licensed dental professional to treat the problem as quickly and painlessly as possible. (If you are in North Carolina or Southern Virginia, you can come see us at one of our Happy Tooth locations and we will gladly take care of you!)

Treatment for an abscessed tooth focuses on draining the infected area, treating the infection, and relieving pain. Some treatment options typically include:

  • Puncturing and draining the abscess. A small puncture is made to drain the pus, followed by a rinse with saline solution. If an abscess ruptures on its own, the pus can infect other areas; having a professional puncture and clean the area immediately helps prevent future infection.
  • Root canal. A root canals involves removed part or all of the “pulp” of the tooth, which is filled with nerves and blood vessels. If part of the pulp becomes infected, it can be both painful and dangerous, and so must be treated.
  • Tooth extraction. If the tooth itself has decayed significantly, it might have to be removed to treat the rest of the abscess and to prevent further infection.
  • Medications. If the infection has spread beyond the abscessed area, your dentist might recommend a course of antibiotics to fight it.

a woman is getting her abscessed tooth treated from a dentist with dental instruments

How to Prevent and Treat an Abscessed Tooth

Prevention is always the best medicine. You can generally avoid abscessed teeth entirely if you brush and floss daily, and visit a dentist regularly. It can also help to regularly use an antiseptic mouthwash. The goal is to ward off tooth decay, the primary cause of abscessed teeth. If the condition does appear, there are steps the patient can take to relieve the pain, but in order to remove the infection, it will always be necessary to visit a medical professional. The longer the condition is left untreated, the more difficult, protracted, and painful the treatment becomes.

Oral Health is Important for the Whole Body

Taking care of your teeth is about more than just maintaining a great-looking smile. It's also vital for your overall well-being, and if you neglect it, there can be serious medical consequences. Make your oral health a priority by regularly seeing a dentist at The Happy Tooth.

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