Tooth infections are no one’s idea of a good time. They can be painful, smelly, and are a sign that something isn’t right with your oral health—but they can also be downright dangerous. Untreated tooth and mouth infections get worse over time, and can potentially spread toxic substances to other parts of your body with dangerous results. The good news is there are plenty of simple things you can add to your daily oral health care routine to prevent tooth infections from endangering your mouth.

What Is a Tooth Infection?

Tooth infections occur when bacteria access the soft tissues underneath the hard outer layer of enamel that protects your teeth. When this happens, bacteria can grow within the tooth, even in the root underneath the gums. This can happen as a result of one of the many tooth decay stages since cavities create holes in the enamel which can leave the inner layers called the pulp and the dentin vulnerable. Tooth infections can also happen as a result of trauma, such as a cracked tooth from a fall or accident, or from advanced gingivitis, which is a disease of the gums.

Mouth infections are usually categorized as:

Gingival. Here, the infection solely affects the gum structure and does not spread to the actual tooth.

Periapical. Typically referred to as a periapical abscess, this type of infection affects the tip of the tooth’s root.

Periodontal. This type of infection corrupts the bone and soft tissues in the mouth that support the teeth. Typically, periodontal infections start as tooth infections and spread to the surrounding tissues.

What Causes Dental Abscesses?

An abscess is a pocket of pus that comes from untreated oral infections. As bacteria multiply within a tooth, underneath the gums, or in other tissues, they create a foul-smelling, toxic liquid that builds up in the decayed space. Periapical abscesses may look like a white spot or pimple in the gum, usually near the infected tooth, which can rupture, causing a foul taste and smell in the mouth.

When this happens, it may initially relieve some of the swelling and pain caused by the abscess, but rupture indicates a potentially dangerous stage of tooth infection as it does not mean the infection is gone. Rather, a continued infection can spread to the jaw bone, tissues in the face and neck, and in rare cases, even the brain and heart. Infected material in the bloodstream can create a blood infection called sepsis—a life-threatening condition that requires immediate emergency medical treatment.

What Are the Symptoms of Mouth Infection?

Tooth and mouth infections usually present with symptoms such as:

  • Severe, throbbing pain that does not go away and may spread to the neck, jaw, or ear.
  • Increased pain and sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures while eating and drinking.
  • Pain or discomfort from the pressure of chewing or biting.
  • As the infection spreads, fever can be common.
  • Swelling in the mouth, around the face, or in the neck can make swallowing uncomfortable or difficult.
  • Lymph nodes under the jaw that feel tender or swollen.
  • Bad breath.
  • If the abscess ruptures, you may experience the sudden presence of foul-tasting or salty liquid accompanied by relief of pressure around the tooth.

How to Prevent Infection in the Mouth

Oral infections and the resulting decay can be treated by a dentist, but advanced cases may require treatment from a general physician—or even emergency medical personnel. While infection can be treated with antibiotics and removal of infected tissue, when it comes to tooth infection, prevention is always better than treatment. Here are some of the ways to prevent mouth infections at home.

Brush Twice a Day

Brushing is your first and best defense against the kind of bacteria that feed on the leftover food particles and sugar in your mouth—causing decay. Brushing in the morning and evening for two minutes at a time can ward off most causes of infection.

Floss Daily

Flossing removes leftover food from places that your toothbrush can’t reach. The spaces in between your teeth are among the most common areas for cavities to form.

Replace Your Toothbrush Every 1 to 3 Months

Toothbrushes lose their efficiency as the bristles degrade. Not to mention, bacteria and other harmful substances can stick to old toothbrushes. Replace your brush with a new, soft-bristled brush at least every 3 months.

Do Not Smoke

Among plenty of other reasons why smoking is bad for your health, it also contributes to dry mouth. Your saliva is constantly washing away harmful bacteria in your mouth. Without it, bacterias have a much easier time spreading and potentially causing infection.

Eat Healthy Food and Cut Down on Sugar

Sugar is easy food for infection-causing bacteria, and the more you consume, the more energy that these harmful microorganisms have.

Get Regular Dental Checkups

Seeing a dentist every six months is one of the best ways to keep your mouth free of infection. Dental cleanings by trained professionals remove more bacterial buildup than brushing at home, and dentists can see if you have a cracked tooth, dry mouth, cavity, or other potential risk factors for infection and provide treatment before it starts. Treatment for all mouth diseases benefits from early detection, from mouth infection to even oral cancer.

If you think you might have a tooth infection or are looking for other forms of preventive dentistry in Reno, visit the dental professionals at Champagne Family Dentistry in South Meadows. For over 40 years, we’ve been providing our patients with the kind of care that stops infections before they can threaten your oral health, in a warm and welcoming clinic with professionally trained staff. If you or a family member need a dentist in South Reno, call Champagne Family Dentistry to make your first appointment!