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6 Ways to Tell if You Are Living With an Infected Tooth

Worried that your tooth may be infected? Discover the six ways to tell if you have a tooth infection with this guide from Flossy.

Last updated on

July 31, 2023

Katharine Hall

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6 Ways to Tell if You Are Living With an Infected Tooth

A tooth infection is a serious condition that can progress to the rest of your body if left untreated. For this reason, identifying the symptoms of a tooth infection and seeing your doctor as soon as possible is incredibly important.

If you’re worried that you have a tooth infection, then keep reading this guide from Flossy to find out six sure signs that you may have one. In addition, discover what causes a tooth infection, what puts you at risk for developing one, and how you can prevent one from developing in the first place. 

What Is an Infected Tooth?

Thanks to your immune system, your body is very good at fighting off bacterial infections. However, the one part that your body can’t protect is the teeth. 

As such, when a bacterial infection begins to form in the teeth and gums, your body can’t do much to fight off the infection. As a result, you may experience pain and swelling around your tooth which a dentist must treat. 

Sometimes, a tooth infection can lead to a tooth abscess, which is a “pocket” of pus. This can form in different places around the tooth. An abscess usually resembles a small white or red ball around the gums or teeth. 

There are three types of infections that can lead to an abscess: 

  1. Gingival: This type of infection develops in the gums. As such, it affects the gums only and leaves the surrounding tooth and its supporting structures unaffected.

  2. Periapical: This type of infection forms when bacteria enter your tooth through some type of opening, such as a cavity. The bacteria can spread to the root of the tooth and read the pulp, which is a tissue that is full of nerve-rich endings. Eventually, the bacteria will cause an abscess to form in the area where the tooth’s root is located.

  3. Periodontal: This type of infection begins in the tooth’s supporting structures, such as the bone. It usually occurs as a result of gum disease, which causes the gums to pull away from the teeth and leave space through which bacteria can enter. 

A periapical infection is the most common cause of an infected tooth. Fortunately, it can be prevented by practicing healthy lifestyle choices. 

What Are the Causes of an Infected Tooth?

Bacteria cause most tooth infections. This bacteria can reach the innermost parts of the teeth and gums through openings caused by tooth decay. 

While we all have bacteria in our mouths—which is part of our oral microbiome—an infection is caused by an imbalance between “good” and “bad” bacteria. When this imbalance is combined with other factors—such as decaying nerves or an accumulation of plaque—it can lead to an infection. 

Any tooth can become infected since every tooth has nerve-rich tissue at its core. However, teeth that are damaged are much more susceptible to being infected. Those teeth with cavities, chips, and cracks or a history of trauma (even without visible damage) are more likely to become infected. 

Possible Complications of a Tooth Infection

A tooth abscess will not go away on its own. While it can rupture and relieve some of the pain, it is still a bacterial infection that needs to be treated by a dentist. 

If you delay treatment, you risk that the bone in your jaw may begin to dissolve, which can cause your tooth to become loose and fall out. In addition, the bacterial infection can spread to other parts of the mouth, the jaw, and even other parts of the body. 

When the infection begins to spread beyond the tooth, you risk the following complications:

  • Cellulitis: Sometimes, a tooth infection can penetrate the skin on the face and infect it. As a result, the cheeks (as well as other parts of the face) can become red and inflamed. Sometimes, a big “ball” can form on the cheek.

  • Parapharyngeal abscess: Sometimes, bacteria can spread to the back of the throat, leading to an abscess developing there. This may be an incredibly uncomfortable area from which to remove it.

  • Osteomyelitis: This is an infection that is characterized by inflammation of the bone that is attached to the tooth. Although it is a rare condition, it is still incredibly serious and requires invasive treatment.

  • Cavernous sinus thrombosis: If the infection spreads to cavernous sinuses—the cavities behind the eyes—then it can cause a blood clot to form. This is a life-threatening condition with many long-term complications.

  • Sepsis: This is a life-threatening condition that is caused by your body’s response to a bacterial infection. It is characterized by body-wide inflammation, which can lead to your body shutting down.

Once a tooth infection has spread to the rest of the body, you may experience symptoms beyond the teeth and gum areas. 

In some cases, you may feel as if you were sick with the flu and exhibit symptoms such as fever, sweating, chills, fatigue, dizziness, dehydration, nausea, vomiting, and mental confusion. If this ever happens to you, treat it as a medical emergency and get help immediately. 

What Are the Risk Factors of an Infected Tooth?

Some people are more susceptible to a tooth infection than others. The following are some of the risk factors that increase your chances of developing a tooth infection:

  • Poor oral hygiene: This is the most easily preventable risk factor of a tooth infection. However, many individuals do not follow a proper oral hygiene routine, which increases their chances of developing an overgrowth of bacteria through plaque and tartar.

  • A sugar-rich diet: Because oral bacteria primarily feed on sugar, consuming too much can lead to an overgrowth of bacteria. This is especially harmful when combined with poor oral hygiene.

  • Dry mouth: Our saliva is a miraculous substance that serves many functions in the body. Most importantly, it has antimicrobial properties that key your oral health well-balanced. If you experience dry mouth, you may not produce enough saliva to receive its antimicrobial benefits, which can lead to an overgrowth of bacteria. 

  • Tooth decay: Once the protective outer layers of your tooth begin to wear away, they leave exposed the inner parts of your tooth. These parts are susceptible to a bacterial infection and can potentially become infected with pathogens.

Fortunately, these risk factors are mostly lifestyle-based and can be easily prevented. To limit your risk of a tooth infection, make sure to limit your consumption of sugary foods and beverages. In addition, practice consistent oral hygiene by brushing and flossing at least two times per day. Last, see your dentist for regular check-ups to ensure you are not developing tooth decay, such as cavities

6 Ways to Tell You Have an Infected Tooth

While an initial tooth infection may not have symptoms, many times, you can tell whether your tooth is infected. The following seven symptoms can indicate whether you have a tooth infection, so you can quickly schedule an appointment to see your dentist as soon as possible. 

1. You Feel Pain

Any kind of pain around your tooth and gum area is a sure sign of an infection. Most often, you should feel either a gnawing or a throbbing pain around the infection site, which is consistent. 

This can make it difficult for you to eat or sleep on the side where your tooth is infected. Sometimes, you may even find it hard to open your jaw. 

2. You Experience Swelling

Once the infection progresses, it can lead to swelling of your face, jaw, and lymph nodes. In some cases, the swelling may be mild and barely noticeable. In other cases, the swelling can become as big as a tennis ball, which will be extremely noticeable and uncomfortable.

3. You Develop a “Cyst”

If your infection has progressed to an abscess, then you may notice a small ball of pus-forming on your gums. This small ball is a collection of bacteria and various liquids. Because an abscess cannot form without bacterial infection, this is a sure sign that you’re experiencing one. 

4. You Have a Bad Taste In Your Mouth

If an abscess begins to drain in your mouth, you may have a bad taste that can’t be explained by anything else. This taste can be salty, sour, or bitter. In addition, you may experience bad breath. 

5. Your Tooth Becomes Darker

Because an infected tooth receives less oxygen and other nutrients from the body, it can eventually begin to decay. As a result, it may turn a color that is a grey or brown shade—in contrast to the rest of your teeth. 

6. You Don’t Feel Well

If the infection gets severe enough, it can progress to the rest of your body. In this case, you might feel as if you were sick and experience symptoms such as fever, fatigue, and nausea. 

How Is a Tooth Infection Treated?

A tooth infection cannot be treated at home and must be addressed by a professional. That said, you can manage symptoms at home by applying a cold pack to the affected area and regularly rinsing with warm saltwater. You can also take pain-relieving medication while you wait to be treated.

Once you see your dentist, the first part of the treatment will usually involve diagnosis to make sure that you have a tooth infection and not another condition. Your dentist will likely perform an X-ray to determine the extent of the infection. If there’s any suspicion that the infection has spread to other parts of the body, your dentist may also perform a CT scan. 

Once you have a confirmed infection, your dentist will proceed to treatment, which may include the following steps:

  1. Draining the abscess: If your infection has progressed to an abscess, then your dentist will have to make a small incision in it so they can drain it. The area will then be washed with a saline solution to speed up healing.

  2. Performing a root canal: Next, your dentist will perform a root canal procedure. This is done by drilling into the tooth and removing any diseased tissue at its core. Then, your dentist will fill in the hole made by the procedure and apply a crown on top of the tooth so you can use it as you normally do.

  3. Extracting the tooth: Sometimes, the infected tooth may experience significant decay. In this case, your dentist might forego a root canal procedure and completely extract the tooth instead.

  4. Treating with antibiotics: In some cases, the entire infection may be removed once the abscess is drained and a root canal is performed. However, in most cases, you might require at-home treatment with a course of antibiotics. You may also be prescribed antibiotics if you experience problems with your immune system. 

How to Prevent Tooth Infections

Many causes of tooth infection are lifestyle-based. Here are some of the things you can do to prevent your chances of developing one:

  • Brush and floss your teeth at least twice per day to reduce the chances of bacterial build-up.

  • Avoid sugar in your food and beverage. If you must have some, rinse or brush your teeth immediately after.

  • Use products that contain fluoridate to strengthen your tooth enamel.

  • Brush your teeth gently to avoid wearing away the enamel.

  • Visit your dentist for regular cleanings.

Adopting healthy lifestyle choices will go a long way in keeping your oral health in top shape and decreasing your chances of a tooth infection. 

Treating an Infected Tooth with Flossy

If you experience pain and swelling, have a bad taste in your mouth, and have symptoms of a fever, then it’s very likely that you have a tooth infection. 

If that’s the case, it’s important to schedule a visit with a dentist as soon as possible. With Flossy, you can be sure that your tooth infection is treated quickly—all at a fraction of the cost of most other dentists. 

Flossy can be an alternative to dental insurance or a supplemental discount for procedures not covered by insurance. Find and book an appointment with a dentist in your area today!


Oral microbiome: Unveiling the fundamentals | NCBI 

Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis | NCBI Bookshelf 

Functions of Saliva | IntechOpen

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