How Does a Tooth Become Infected?

A TOOTH INFECTION is when bacteria invade the pulp at the core of a tooth, whether...

A TOOTH INFECTION is when bacteria invade the pulp at the core of a tooth, whether through trauma, a cavity, or previous dental procedures. Infected teeth can come with incredibly painful toothaches and they need to be treated with root canal therapy before the damage becomes so extensive that they have to be extracted.

Causes of Tooth Infections

According to the ADA, the causes of tooth infection are decay, gum disease, or a cracked tooth. Each of these conditions can let bacteria enter the pulp and cause a buildup of pus at the root tip in the jawbone. The pus buildup is an abscess, which can become a severe infection that affects the bone and can even be life-threatening if it isn’t treated before the bacteria reaches the bloodstream.

Signs and Symptoms of an Infected Tooth

The most obvious symptom of an infected tooth is a toothache, but it isn’t the only symptom and it isn’t present every time there’s a tooth infection. Here are other symptoms of an infected tooth:

  • A bitter taste in the mouth
  • Persistent bad breath, even after rinsing with water or mouthwash
  • Swollen, red gums
  • Loosening of teeth
  • An open, draining sore on the gums surrounding the tooth
  • Tooth sensitivity

If a tooth infection is accompanied by fever, swelling, or difficulty breathing or swallowing, seek medical attention immediately, as the infection may have spread to other parts of the body.

Treating an Infected Tooth

Depending on how severe an infection is, there are different ways we might treat it. A cavity that doesn’t reach the pulp can be treated with a simple filling, but the only way to remove the infection from inside the tooth is through root canal therapy. We remove the diseased pulp and fill and seal the pulp chamber and root canals, eliminating the source of the infection and preserving the tooth. If there is an abscess, we may drain it by making a small incision, then wash the area with saline. For infections that are spreading to nearby areas, we may prescribe antibiotics.

How to Prevent Tooth Infections

An infected tooth can be incredibly painful and disruptive to normal activities we enjoy. Prevention is always preferable to needing treatment, and that means maintaining good oral care habits. Brush twice a day for two full minutes with a soft-bristled brush and fluoride toothpaste, floss daily, and keep up with regular dental appointments to get a professional-level cleaning and so that any emerging problems can be caught early. Also, go to the dentist right away if you notice a problem, even if your next appointment isn’t for several months.

Schedule an Appointment If You Have an Infected Tooth

If you’re experiencing symptoms of an infected tooth, don’t wait! The sooner we can treat it, the better off you and your tooth will be. Endodontic treatment saves teeth every day, puts an end to the pain of an infected tooth, and prevents the symptoms from getting worse.

We love saving teeth!

Top image used under CC0 Public Domain license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.
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