Getting to the Root of a Major Health Issue
A tooth infection starts simply enough from a cavity or by gingivitis (mild gum disease). Both conditions are easily treatable by your dentist, but if left unchecked can become serious health problems that can spread beyond complications in your mouth. Untreated cavities in a tooth will deepen and gum disease will spread. An abscess (an infection in the tooth’s root or between the gums) can develop and spread infection to the bone that supports the tooth.
If further left untreated the tooth infection can cause the bacteria in the mouth to enter the bloodstream and infect heart valves. This condition affects and weakens the valves, making them susceptible to infection and causing life-threatening conditions.
Types of Tooth Infections
A tooth infection can be very painful or grow in your mouth without any signs of discomfort. There are several types of dental infections depending upon the area of invasion.
Inside Your Tooth
It starts in the living pulp tissue inside your tooth and comes from decay (a cavity) or severe irritation resulting from chronic infection. The natural defense mechanism breaks down because the blood vessel which transports antibodies and white blood cells gets destroyed.
Therefore, when your tooth becomes infected, it will not recover, and the pulp tissue will die. The treatment for this condition is a root canal treatment. With a root canal treatment, the soft tissue inside your tooth is removed and replaced with a sealant material that keeps infection from seeping back into the tooth.
In Bone Surrounding the Tooth
A tooth abscess may or may not be painful; it is formed near the root of the tooth. When bacteria are in the bone, your body can fight them with antibodies and white blood cells.
The problem is that there is a constant supply of new bacteria to the region from the dead tissue inside your tooth. Your body may or may not be successful in walling off the infected area, so an abscess can go on for years without hurting. But the risk of damage is great. The abscess can grow and spread to surrounding roots of other teeth, and it can even cause the root of your tooth to be gradually dissolved.
Signs and Symptoms of Tooth Infection
See your dentist immediately if you notice:
Out of control presence of pus- a thick yellowish white material made up of living and dead bacteria, white blood cells, and dead tissue. The appearance of a pimple in your mouth is a huge red flag.
Pain when chewing.
Swelling of gums or cheeks.
Discoloration of tooth or gums.
Bitter taste in the mouth.
What to Do Before You See Your Dentist
If you can’t get to your dentist immediately, you can manage the pain by:
Rinsing the mouth three or four times daily with a mixture of 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 liter warm water.
Applying cold packs to the cheek to minimize the pain.
Time is a big factor in whether a tooth is allowed to reach the point of infection. The longer the tooth sits with a problem, the higher chance that infection can occur and spread to become an abscess. Once a decayed, fractured, or sensitive tooth is noticed, taking the preventive steps to fix it early will help prevent bigger problems such as an abscessed tooth.
Treatments for Serious Infection and Abscessed Tooth
Draining the abscess – an incision is made into the swollen gum tissue.
Root Canal Therapy – removes infected area and seals the tooth from further damage.
Surgery – may be needed to remove the infected material from the bony tissue around the root.
Extraction – the tooth can’t be saved and will need to be removed.
If these systems and treatments don’t sound very nice (they’re not), consider ways to prevent these conditions. Most are obvious and easy ones.
Preventing Tooth Infection
Every day oral hygiene – Go figure, brushing and flossing twice daily are the first steps to preventing tooth infection.
Regularly scheduled dental check-ups and cleanings are important. A dentist can see things in your mouth during an exam that you can’t see every day. Hygienist deep cleanings every six months are strong deterrents to nasty infections.
Easy on the sweets – Sugar feeds bacteria that fuel the fire for infection.
Use fluoridated drinking water – Strengthens teeth against infection agents like plaque and tarter.
Replace your toothbrush every three months or before if the bristles are frayed – Infection causing bacteria can build-up on your toothbrush if not changed regularly.
Most infections cause dental pain, but many remain silent and painless for years. You can have this tooth problem without feeling the dental abscess and without a toothache. Make sure to see your dentist every six months to prevent infection, potentially costly treatments involved and the more serious conditions related to abscess.
Sources: worldental.org, mayoclinic.org