The Dangers of Allowing a Toothache, Abscess or Infection to Go Untreated

Neglecting our oral health can have very serious consequences for our overall health. In this post, our Edmonton dentists explain what happens if you leave a toothache, abscess or infection untreated, and why we recommend seeing a dentist as soon as possible in these circumstances. 

Bad Teeth: Toothaches, Abscesses & Infections

When people experience pain in their tooth, there is typically an underlying cause that will need to be treated. In this post, we'll discuss toothaches and the different types of abscesses that may be causing pain in your mouth.

Tooth Root Infection (Periapical Abscess)

A chipped tooth, untreated tooth decay (cavities), injury due to a cracked tooth or openings in the tooth enamel can all leave the tooth vulnerable to buildup of bacteria and a subsequent toothache and infection. Your toothache could be caused by the injury or a resulting infection if the injury is left untreated for too long.

An untreated continuous and/or severe toothache may point to an infection in the tooth root (periapical abscess), which occurs when a bacterial infection causes pus (which consists of white blood cells, germs and dead tissue) to accumulate at the roots of the tooth. The bacteria make their way to the tooth's pulp, which contains nerves, blood vessels and connective tissues, and to the bones that support the tooth, causing pain and swelling.

An abscessed tooth may either be acute or chronic. While an acute abscess may cause sharp, sudden, abrupt pain, chronic abscesses can cause low-grade pain that lingers for months. Chronic abscesses can prove more dangerous than the acute forms because it can cause damage to the tooth, jawbone and soft tissue. 

Gum or Bone Infection 

When food gets stuck in the space between your teeth and gums, the gums and bone can become infected with a gum abscess. There are two stages to gum abscesses: gingival and periodontal. 

Gum abscesses sometimes result in gum disease, an infection of the tissues supporting the teeth and is mainly caused by buildup of bacteria. It can cause bacteria to accumulate in the bone below the gum. The link between gum disease and several serious diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, rheumatoid and certain forms of cancer is well-documented. 

What happens if you leave a toothache untreated?

Left untreated, the infection can spread throughout the body and lead to more serious health issues and even death. Though our teeth and gums are a small part of our body, neglecting your oral health needs can have severe consequences and impacts on your general health. 

While a toothache may be caused by many factors, it's one symptom of a tooth root infection. Other signs of a tooth infection or gum abssscesss include:

  • Sensitivity or pain when chewing or biting food
  • Gnawing, sharp, throbbing or shooting pain in the tooth
  • Sensitivity or pain when eating hot or cold beverages or food 
  • Swelling of the gums near the infected tooth (may look similar to a pimple)
  • Swollen upper or lower jaw and lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Discharge of pus
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing 
  • Bad breath
  • Foul or bitter smell and taste in your mouth

Do I have to treat an abscessed tooth?

Some people wonder, 'Can an abscessed tooth infection be harmful to my health?' In a word: Yes. Whether you have an acute or chronic tooth abscess, the symptoms listed above will cause bacteria to enter the blood vessels and spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream. While the toothache may stop if pressure is relieved, the infection will still be active and continue to spread, causing more pain and destroying tissue.

Dangers of a Tooth or Gum Abscess

If a tooth abscess is left untreated, it can worsen and lead to life-threatening complications, especially if you have underlying health issues. If you have a toothache or abscess, you'll need emergency care at your dentist's office. Here are some potential complications of a tooth abscess:

  • Tooth loss
  • Blood infection and clotting of the vessel 
  • Infection spreads to soft tissue or jaw bone
  • Sinusitis
  • Dental cyst
  • Sepsis (a potentially life-threatening complication of an infection)
  • Infection spreads to other parts of the body, potentially causing heart inflammation, pneumonia, brain abscess or other complications

Tooth Abscess Treatment

If you have a throbbing, gnawing or shooting pain in your tooth that won't stop, call your dentist as soon as possible and come in for emergency dental care. To treat your abscessed tooth, the dentist will:

  • Perform a root canal treatment to drain the abscess and clear infected tissues of infection before placing a dental crown or filling
  • Extracting the tooth if the infected tooth is severely damaged

Gum Abscess & Treatment

While a periapical abscess forms under the tooth, a gum or periodontal abscess develops in the gum and bone supporting the teeth and can cause your gums to swell or bleed. You may also experience pain that reverberates through your jaw. 

When it comes to diagnosing a gum abscess, your dentist will assess your symptoms against the known stages of this condition, which include:

Gingival Abscess

Characterized by a local purulent infection that affects the marginal gingiva (the terminal edge of the gingiva around the teeth). 

Periodontal Abscess

Happens within the tissues adjacent to a periodontal pocket and also involves a localized purulent infection. Left untreated, this can lead to the periodontal ligament and alveolar bone being destroyed. 

To treat a periodontal abscess, your dentist will:

  • Thoroughly clean the infected area 
  • Drain the trapped pus
  • Treat the infection
  • Potentially prescribe a course of antibiotics to stop infection from spreading and prevent recurrence 

Should I always see a dentist for tooth pain?

If a toothache is causing you severe pain, over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen may help to temporarily alleviate pain somewhat. That said, even if the pain is bearable you should still see a dentist as soon as possible, since a toothache usually indicates an underlying dental issue that will not disappear on its own. Having your tooth pain treated as soon as possible may prevent the need for a tooth extraction, further health complications and need for more invasive treatments. 

Do I need to go to the dentist for gum or mouth pain?

It depends on the type of pain, its severity, duration and the circumstances surrounding it. There is no way to treat a gum abscess at home. If foreign objects such as food become lodged in your gums and cause infection and pain. While dental emergencies can happen suddenly and at the most inconvenient of times, putting off tending to pain in your teeth or gums can have severe consequences for your oral and overall health. 

If you're suffering from a throbbing toothache, gum or mouth pain, never hesitate to contact our dentists at Emergency Dental Clinics, especially if you notice swelling in your gums. 

Avoid Health Complications from Dental Infections at Emergency Dental Clinics

Dental emergencies happen when we least expect them, but our dentists in Edmonton are on call to help when you're in need of emergency dental care to correct the issue and provide treatment to prevent further complications for your dental health and general health. We offer same-day appointments and services for a wide variety of dental emergencies. Whatever you need, we're here for you. 

Are you experiencing severe tooth, gum or mouth pain? Contact our Edmonton dentists right away. We can make room in our schedule to see you in as soon as possible.

Have a dental emergency in Edmonton? We're here on weekends and after hours to help.

Dental emergencies always happen when you least expect them. Our friendly and experienced dental team is on call to assist you when you need us most.

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