A tooth infection, or a tooth abscess, is a collection of pus and bacteria that forms inside the tooth or gum.

Without proper treatment, tooth infections can spread to other areas of the body, and this can lead to serious and potentially life threatening complications. To reduce the risk of complications, a person should seek treatment for a tooth infection as early as possible.

Learn more about the signs and symptoms of a tooth infection spreading, how to treat such infections, and how to prevent them here.

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It is rare for a tooth infection to spread to other parts of the body. However, if this does happen, the consequences can be severe.

The following symptoms could indicate that a tooth infection has spread to another part of the body. A person who has a suspected tooth infection and develops any of these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention:

The mouth is full of bacteria from foods, saliva, and plaque. Sometimes, these bacteria can enter a tooth or the area below the gumline. This results in a tooth infection, or an abscess.

An abscess is a pocket of pus and bacteria that forms within the body’s tissues.

In most cases, tooth infections are easily treatable. However, a person who does not receive prompt treatment is at risk of developing the following complications:

  • Osteomyelitis: This is an infection of the bone surrounding the tooth.
  • Cavernous sinus thrombosis: This is an infection of the blood vessels within the sinuses.
  • Cellulitis: This is an infection of the skin and the fat directly beneath the skin.
  • Parapharyngeal abscess: This is an abscess at the back of the mouth.
  • Sepsis: This is a serious medical condition in which the immune system severely overreacts to an infection in the blood.

Without treatment, a tooth infection can spread to the face and neck. Severe infections may even reach more distant parts of the body.

In some cases, such infections may become systemic, affecting multiple tissues and systems throughout the body.

A person should contact a dentist at the first sign of a tooth infection. Early treatment stops the infection from spreading further.

If a tooth infection has spread, it is considered a medical emergency. These infections can quickly become widespread and severe. In some cases, systemic infections can even be life threatening.

A person should contact a dentist for an emergency appointment as soon as possible. If there are no dentists available, a person should visit the emergency department of their nearest hospital.

The type of treatment a person receives for a tooth infection depends on several factors, including:

  • the initial location of the abscess
  • whether, and to what extent, the infection has spread
  • the extent of the immune system’s reaction to the infection

Some possible treatments for a tooth infection include the following.

Root canal treatment

Root canal treatment (RCT) may be necessary to treat an abscess deep inside the tooth.

The procedure involves drilling into the tooth to remove the tooth’s pulp, bacteria, and any accumulated pus inside the root.

The dentist then fills the space with a rubber-like material called gutta-percha. Once the tooth has healed, they restore it with a crown or a permanent filling to prevent further infections.

Apicoectomy

Sometimes, RCT is not enough to get rid of a tooth infection. In such cases, a dentist may recommend a procedure called apicoectomy, or a root-end resection.

This procedure involves opening up the gums, removing the end of the tooth root, and removing any infected tissue.

Antibiotics

A dentist may prescribe antibiotics to reduce the infection and stop it from spreading before administering a more permanent treatment.

If the infection has already spread, a person may need a longer course of antibiotic treatment. Alternatively, they may need to switch to a different type of medication. They may also require hospital admission to receive stronger antibiotics.

Drainage

In certain cases, it may be necessary to drain pus directly from the site of the infection. For example, drainage may be necessary to remove pus from a dental abscess that has spread to the cheek.

To do this, a doctor or dentist numbs the area, creates a small incision, and drains pus and fluid from the gums.

Treatment of sepsis

Sepsis is a serious medical condition that occurs when the immune system severely overreacts to an infection in the blood. Untreated sepsis can lead to septic shock. With septic shock, a person’s blood pressure becomes dangerously low, which can lead to organ failure and even death.

People with sepsis need treatment in an intensive care unit. Such treatment typically involves intravenous antibiotics and fluids.

Other treatments may be necessary to support the body’s organs and limit the damage resulting from the infection. Such treatments may include dialysis or surgery.

The following tips can help reduce a person’s chances of developing a tooth infection:

  • brushing the teeth twice per day using a toothpaste that contains fluoride
  • not rinsing the mouth or drinking anything immediately after brushing the teeth
  • using floss or interdental brushes at least once per day
  • limiting the intake of sugary foods and beverages
  • visiting the dentist regularly

If a tooth infection does occur, a person should contact a dentist or doctor immediately.

Most tooth infections are easily treatable. However, if a person does not receive prompt treatment, a tooth infection can spread to other parts of the body. Once the infection has spread, it can quickly lead to severe and potentially life threatening complications.

A person who suspects that their tooth infection has spread should seek immediate medical treatment.

The most effective way to prevent tooth infections is to maintain good oral hygiene. People can do this by limiting their sugar intake, brushing their teeth twice per day, and visiting the dentist regularly.