What do pain, sensitivity when chewing, bad breath, facial swelling, and fever have in common? They’re all signs of an abscessed tooth – a condition where a pocket of pus (caused by a bacterial infection) builds up around the tooth. Every year approximately 200,000 Americans suffer from the debilitating pain brought on by an infected tooth. In recent years, many people have let their oral health fall by the wayside – the result of dental anxiety, fear of needing dental work, exorbitant out-of-pocket costs, or just being too busy to pencil visits in.
But when does ignoring that tooth goes too far and become a real medical emergency? In recent years, emergency rooms see thousands of people annually for dental-related issues. In fact, from 2000 to 2008, the number of people hospitalized for dental abscesses increased by 40%.
To fully understand tooth abscesses, it’s important to be familiar with the structure of our teeth. They are hard on the outside – allowing us to chew our favorite foods – but inside, they are comprised of nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissues that can be prone to infection. Deep cavities, periodontal, or gum disease, and chipped teeth can all let in debris and bacteria acting as a catalyst for infection.
Unlike infections on your hand or leg that can often be remedied by cleaning or applying antibacterial ointment and a simple bandage, a tooth abscess will never get better on its own. If you are experiencing open sores, redness, pain, and swelling of the gums, pain while chewing, or persistent tooth sensitivity – don’t delay treatment. It’s important that you seek help as soon as possible.
Left untreated, the infection can spread to the neck, head, and other regions of the body. In some cases, the bacteria can travel toward to heart, and settle in the heart lining, a heart valve, or a blood vessel; this can lead to a condition known as Bacterial Endocarditis. Shortness of breath in some tooth abscess sufferers can be a sign of Ludwig’s angina – a condition where the infection restricts the functioning of one’s airways.
Those with weakened immune systems have a high risk for sepsis. Recent media coverage focused on a 26-year-old whose abscessed tooth didn’t drain; it caused the infection to spread to his bloodstream and led to death. It’s important to note that even if your pain subsides, you are still at risk. When the tooth root dies, pain may die down temporarily, but the harm the infection poses to your health is still very much in play.
Your best defense against tooth infection is remembering to practice proper oral hygiene – that is, brushing twice a day, flossing regularly, and attending routine cleanings at your dentist’s office. Dentists have many methods of treating your tooth abscess including root canal, and in more dire cases extraction and gum incision; however, preventative treatment is always ideal. If you should be prescribed antibiotics, it is imperative to take the entire dose – how and when the doctor prescribes. Just because the pain or swelling has subsided does not mean the infection has entirely gone away.
Dr. Steven R. Hagerman DDS and the staff at Hagerman Dental Care offer comprehensive oral care including general, cosmetic, and restorative dentistry. Whether your pearly whites are in tip-top shape – or you need help addressing dental problems, their knowledgeable team will ensure you have a comfortable and convenient visit. For more information, call (651) 646-2392 or schedule an appointment online.