Conditions,  Health,  Q&A

How Long Until a Tooth Infection Kills You?

This article is a part of our Q&A series in which we give detailed answers to our readers' questions. Have a question? Don't hesitate and send it to us to get a detailed answer!

Dental infections can seem minor and innocuous, but if left untreated, they can escalate into life-threatening situations. This article aims to raise awareness of the seriousness of tooth infections and their potential to be fatal, as well as the importance of timely dental care.

What are Tooth Infections?

Tooth infections, often referred to as abscesses, are pockets of pus caused by bacterial infections in different parts of the tooth. They can occur at the root tip or in the gums at the base of a tooth. Common symptoms include throbbing toothache, sensitivity to hot and cold, fever, swelling in the face, and a bitter taste in the mouth.

The Pathway to Sepsis

If a tooth infection is left untreated, the bacteria can spread to the jaw, surrounding tissues, and other areas of the body. Once it enters the bloodstream, there is a risk of sepsis, which is the body’s extreme response to an infection. Sepsis can lead to septic shock, organ failure, and even death if not promptly treated.

Time Frame for a Tooth Infection to Become Fatal

The time frame in which a tooth infection can become life-threatening varies from person to person and depends on various factors, such as the individual’s immune system, the virulence of the bacteria, and the timeliness and effectiveness of treatment.
In some cases, a tooth infection can spread rapidly within just a few days. In other instances, it may take weeks for an infection to escalate to a life-threatening condition. There is no precise timeline, and as such, any tooth infection should be taken seriously from the outset.

Signs That a Tooth Infection is Spreading

Early detection and treatment of a spreading tooth infection are crucial to prevent it from becoming life-threatening.
Signs that an infection is spreading include:

  • Increased swelling in the face or neck
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Fever and chills
  • Increased heart rate
  • Severe pain that does not subside with over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Unusual mental changes or confusion

Preventing and Addressing Tooth Infections

  • Proper Dental Hygiene: Preventing tooth infection starts with practicing good oral hygiene, which includes regular brushing, flossing, and dental check-ups.
  • Prompt Dental Attention: If you suspect a tooth infection or experience any of the symptoms mentioned earlier, seek dental care immediately. Prompt treatment not only prevents the infection from spreading but can also save the tooth.
  • Following Prescribed Treatment: If an infection is diagnosed, it’s essential to follow the prescribed treatment plan, which may include antibiotics to fight the infection.

Bottom Line

Tooth infections are not to be taken lightly. Their ability to rapidly progress into life-threatening conditions like sepsis underscores the importance of awareness, prompt treatment, and preventive oral care. Knowing the signs of a spreading infection and seeking immediate medical attention can make the difference between a manageable dental issue and a life-threatening emergency.

This Q&A series article is complete and was published on July 23, 2023, and last updated on July 23, 2023.

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