If you have never experienced a tooth infection, consider yourself lucky. The pain associated with them can be excruciating, and in some cases even debilitating. However, a throbbing, aching mouth is just the tip of the iceberg. Because the teeth are connected to numerous nerves, the pain caused by an infected tooth may also be felt in the jaw, face, neck, and ears. This intense discomfort can dramatically impact one’s ability to eat, work, sleep, and otherwise function normally.
Tooth infections are not only inconvenient but they also can also be dangerous. While broken and decayed teeth can be culprits, bacteria is to blame for most tooth infections. If left untreated, the infection can spread to other areas of the body including the jawbone, bloodstream, and brain where it has the ability to cause serious medical issues. That can especially frightening since it is virtually impossible for patients to determine the severity of a tooth infection or treat it properly without the help of an experienced dentist such as the highly skilled team at SmilesNY Cosmetic and Implant Dentistry in New York City.
Common signs of a tooth infection
Beyond severe mouth pain which is often the primary indicator, other symptoms may point to the presence of an infected tooth. Those include fever, swelling of the cheeks and lymph nodes in the neck, sensitivity to hot or cold foods and beverages, pressure sensitivity, and pain while chewing.
What is an abscessed tooth?
If not addressed promptly, bacteria in the tooth will continue to accumulate. The infection will spread until it reaches the area between the diseased tooth and jawbone. Once there, a swollen spot will appear on the gums that is extremely painful to the touch. This pimple-like, pus-filled pocket is called an abscess.
There are three types of dental abscesses. When bacteria enters the interior of the tooth, usually through a cavity, a periapical abscess can result inside the tooth. Because the tooth’s center is composed of sensitive nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissues, this type of abscess is often extremely painful. A gingival abscess occurs when an object, such as a popcorn kernel or toothbrush bristle, becomes stuck in the gums and provides an access point through which bacteria enters. Periodontal abscesses are often caused by poor dental-hygiene habits like failing to brush and floss regularly and spread to the surrounding bone.
Other symptoms that nod to a potentially abscessed tooth include pain that radiates to the neck, ear or jaw and worsens when lying down, chewing, and biting. The face and gums may appear red and swollen. Bad breath and a foul taste in the mouth could be present. An abscess requires the immediate attention of the dentists at SmilesNY. They will attempt to drain the site and clean it with a saline solution before recommending additional treatments.
Has the infection spread?
It is important for patients in New York City to schedule a dental appointment with a member of the team at Smiles NY if they suspect that they have a tooth infection. It may be surprising to learn that these infections can travel quite easily to the brain, where it can cause an abscess or infection. When an infection spreads into the bloodstream, it may cause sepsis which can be life-threatening. If there is any indication that your tooth infection has spread, head immediately to the closest emergency room for evaluation.
Treating tooth infections
It is possible to relieve some of the pain and swelling associated with an infected tooth by frequently rinsing the mouth with warm salt water or a hydrogen peroxide solution. Cold compresses can also ease the discomfort. Over-the-counter pain medications may alleviate pain and some symptoms temporarily, but will not cure the infection. Be sure to discuss all remedies with your dentist to avoid potentially worsening the infection.
The root of the matter
A go-to procedure for treating tooth infections is root canal therapy, which requires the dentists at SmilesNY to remove the tooth’s nerves and pulp before cleaning out the canals, which are then sealed. The tooth is capped with a restorative crown to prevent the development of future infections. While the prospect of undergoing a root canal likely does not please most patients, the procedure allows the natural tooth to be retained.
In cases where a tooth infection is especially bad, or if the dentist is unable to reach the abscess to drain it, the tooth may be extracted and replaced with a dental implant and natural-looking prosthetic tooth that will help preserve a patient’s smile. If it is determined that a foreign object has caused the tooth infection, the dentist will remove it before draining the abscess and sanitizing the infected area.
Since bacteria is the source of most tooth infections, it is likely that antibiotics will be prescribed as part of the treatment. These powerful medications should be taken over the course of a week to 10 days in order to completely eliminate the infection.
A type of penicillin called amoxicillin is usually a top choice among dentists at SmilesNY as it is particularly effective in fighting serious tooth infections, especially when combined with another drug called Clavulanate. Similarly, penicillin can be combined with the antibiotic Metronidazole to improve its bacteria-battling abilities. If the bacteria proves resistant to amoxicillin, or if a patient has an allergy to penicillin, a medication called clindamycin may be prescribed instead.
Don’t ignore a tooth infection
It is not wise to wait in pain while wondering whether or not you have an infected tooth. Although they can be present for months and even years, it is important to remember that tooth infections will not resolve on their own. Putting off a visit to the dentist can result in serious health complications that may require additional expensive and complex treatments. We urge you to call SmilesNY Cosmetic and Implant Dentistry and schedule an appointment at our New York City office at the first sign of any dental pain or discomfort. Our dentists are committed to providing patients with state-of-the-art treatment that they deserve.