Have you ever experienced tooth sensitivity from hot or cold temperatures? Or throbbing, constant pain in your tooth or jaw? These symptoms could mean that you have a tooth infection. It’s important, should you suspect a tooth infection or abscess, that you seek treatment as soon as possible. Left untreated, an infected tooth could lead to more serious issues. 

Below, you’ll learn the difference between an infection and an abscess, and how to know when it’s time to seek dental treatment.

What Are the Symptoms of a Tooth Infection Spreading?

An Asian woman holds her jaw in pain from sensitivity to hot and cold, holding a beverage. A tooth abscess is an infection inside the tooth that spreads to the tooth root. An abscess forms when the tooth loses its ability to fight off infection. Bacteria invade the tooth’s inner pulp chamber, where the blood vessels and nerves are located. You experience a painful toothache because the infection has spread to this sensitive inner part of the tooth.

What Causes a Tooth Abscess?

A tooth abscess is commonly caused by tooth decay. Tooth decay is the destruction of the tooth enamel by plaque. Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that is constantly forming on the teeth. Whenever we eat or drink foods containing sugars, the bacteria feed off of that sugar, forming harmful acids that damage tooth enamel.  

“Reversible pulpitis” means that the pulp is inflamed but can still recover. If dental decay has become so deep that it reaches the pulp chamber, an inflammatory process begins. At a certain point, the irritation to the pulp caused by this infection is considered irreversible (irreversible pulpitis.) 

Once the pulp is dead, an abscess (or pocket of pus) can develop. This means the infection can now spread from the tooth to the gum and into the jawbone. The only way this type of infection can be stopped is through dental intervention.

Tooth Infection Signs and Symptoms

A young male dental patient with a mustache and beard holds his jaw in pain from tooth infection.Tooth infection (like many other types of infection) begins small and progressively becomes more serious. For this reason, people may experience only a few of these symptoms initially, but it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible. These symptoms may include:

  • Tooth sensitivity when exposed to hot or cold temperatures
  • Bad taste in the mouth, bad breath
  • Severe, constant, throbbing toothache
  • Painful toothache that radiates to the jawbone, neck, or ear
  • Sensitivity to pressure when biting or chewing
  • Tender and/or swollen lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • General unwell feeling
  • Difficulties opening the mouth and swallowing
Treatments for Tooth Infection

The goal of any treatment is to eliminate the infection and/or abscess. If you suspect infection or have been suffering from a toothache, it’s important to schedule a dentist appointment immediately. 

 Close up of a woman’s mouth as she points to possible gum disease and/or tooth infection. Any of the following treatments may be used, depending on the severity of your condition:

  • Open and Drain the Abscess 

The dentist will make a small incision into the abscess to drain the pus. The area will then be washed out with saltwater.

  • Prescribe Antibiotics for the Tooth Infection

If the infection is limited, antibiotics may not be necessary. But, when it has spread to the other teeth and gums, antibiotics are required to prevent it from progressing further.

  • Perform Root Canal Treatment

Root canal treatment is a highly effective procedure to eliminate infection and save your tooth. The process involves removing the diseased tooth pulp tissue and draining the abscess. 

Once the tooth is cleaned out to prevent subsequent infection, the endodontist fills the pulp chamber and seals off the tooth. The tooth may also be capped with a crown to keep it strong. A restored tooth can last a lifetime when it is cared for properly.

  • Tooth Extraction

The dentist will pull the tooth only in severe situations when the affected tooth cannot be saved through root canal treatment. After extraction, the tooth should be replaced to prevent other teeth from shifting to fill in the gap. A dental implant is the preferred replacement option, but people who are not eligible may also consider a bridge or dentures.

Dental Care at Penn Dental Medicine

If you are experiencing any of these tooth infection symptoms, you need to be seen by a dental professional. A tooth infection will only become more severe until it develops into an abscess. In some cases, it may even become life-threatening.

Because it’s common for tooth infection and gum disease to go hand-in-hand, we urge you to download a free copy of our “Gum Disease Self-Assessment” guide. This will help you identify the causes, signs, and symptoms of gum disease and any next steps to take depending on what your self-assessment reveals. 

Penn Dental Medicine dentists have the skills and tools necessary to provide effective treatment for tooth infection, gum disease, and tooth decay, but it’s up to you to take action. 

Schedule an appointment, contact Penn Dental Family Practice today, (215) 898-PDFP.

If you think you may need an emergency dentist, please call our office at 215-898-8965 and explain your symptoms.