How long can a tooth infection go untreated?
Tooth infections are one of the most common dental emergencies. They are often accompanied by severe pain and discomfort. For this reason, people usually seek immediate attention to ease the pain.
However, occasionally, the afflicted person cannot visit the dentist to receive treatment as soon as the symptoms start manifesting. This could be due to work, time, or money.
Fortunately, there is a timeframe in which the tooth infection can go untreated without evolving into a serious complication. Nonetheless, visiting the dentist as soon as possible is still highly recommended.
In this article, we'll discuss how long can a tooth infection go untreated and the different treatment options.
How to recognize a tooth infection?
Before making an emergency appointment with the dentist, it is essential to identify if the symptoms are caused by a tooth infection. Determining it can help the professional understand if they require immediate attention or whether they can wait for a regular dental appointment.
A tooth infection, also known as a dental abscess, usually forms when the tooth is severely damaged. This happens as the dental pulp dies and releases harmful bacteria. For this reason, it is common to find dental abscesses on teeth that have extensive cavities, fractures, or have suffered heavy trauma.
Furthermore, several symptoms are often associated with the infection, such as:
- Severe and constant pain
- Gum swelling
- Facial swelling
- Tooth loosening
- Halitosis or bad breath
- Bumps on the gums
- Pus discharges
- Swollen lymph nodes
It is essential to understand that in severe cases, the pain can irradiate to other areas, such as the neck, ear, and cheeks. Also, facial swelling usually indicates the infection is spreading and requires immediate attention.
How long can I wait before going to the dentist?
Ideally, the patient should visit the dentist as soon as possible since the infection can spread and become a life-threatening condition.
Nonetheless, there is no estimated time for it to happen. This is because every person, body, and case is different. As a result, some people could have a healthy immune system that can stop or slow down the infection's progress for a long time. Meanwhile, this infection could progress faster and turn into a severe health problem for others.
It is also essential to understand that only dental treatment can cure a tooth infection. Taking antibiotics can usually improve the patient's condition. However, it doesn't solve the issue entirely. Therefore, although the dentist might prescribe antibiotics in some cases, it is still necessary to receive proper dental treatment.
What could happen if the infection is not treated?
An untreated tooth infection can spread to other tissues and cause serious health complications. Some of them include the following:
- Bone infection:
Tooth infections commonly affect the surrounding bone. Moreover, as the infection progress, the affected bone area becomes wider.
Since the mouth possesses numerous blood vessels, bacteria can easily reach the bloodstream and cause septicemia. This is a life-threatening condition as the contaminated blood can spread bacteria to other organs.
- Sinus infection:
Some of the upper teeth are located close to the sinus. If the infection is not treated on time, it can spread to them.
- Ludwig's Angina:
This is a life-threatening and rare condition. Ludwig's Angina is a type of infection under the tongue. It can cause difficulty breathing and swallowing.
Meningitis is another life-threatening condition that develops when bacteria reach the brain. It can cause seizures, fever, headache, and confusion.
Available treatment options
Dentists can rely on different options to treat tooth infections, such as:
- Root canal treatment:
Root canal treatment is usually the principal option for infection cases. Since tooth infection is typically caused by bacteria released from dead pulp, removing it helps to solve the issue.
During this procedure, the dentist can place a specific medication inside the tooth that helps the bone to heal.
Dentists can prescribe antibiotics to help reduce the infection. Nonetheless, this is always complementary to a root canal treatment and not the principal treatment option. The reason is that the dead pulp will continue to release bacteria until it is removed. Nowadays, most dentists only prescribe antibiotics in cases that involve facial swelling and fever.
- Tooth extraction:
In some cases, the tooth's damage is too extensive. This could make it impossible for the dentist to restore it. When this happens, removing the tooth is the only option to treat the infection.
- Incision and drainage:
Some large dental abscesses can be drained through a small incision in the gums. This releases the pus contained inside of it and provides immediate relief.
How to prevent a tooth infection?
The best method to prevent a tooth infection is by having good oral hygiene. Brushing the teeth twice daily and flossing can prevent cavities that could eventually turn into dental infections when left untreated. An outstanding method to keep teeth clean is with the Oclean W10 water flosser. This device sprays pressurized water to help the person remove plaque and food stuck between teeth. Furthermore, it has 5 flossing modes to work perfectly in different scenarios.
Additionally, visiting the dentist every 6 months can ensure that the mouth and teeth are completely healthy. Moreover, the dentist can treat any cavity before it evolves, resulting in a dental abscess.
Lastly, wearing a mouth guard while playing contact sports can also reduce the risk of suffering from a tooth infection. This is because it protects the teeth from heavy traumas that could burst the blood vessels on the pulp and cause it to die.
Tooth infections are dental emergencies that must be treated as soon as possible. Otherwise, the infection could spread to other tissues and cause life-threatening conditions. Nonetheless, there is no estimated time for this to happen as every case and person is different.
Fortunately, this can be easily prevented with good oral care. Also, the dentist can treat it and ease the symptoms through a root canal treatment or a tooth extraction.