Do you worry about how dangerous a tooth infection could be? how long until a tooth infection kills you? Stop looking! In this article, we’ll answer the important question of how long it can take for a tooth problem to get so bad that it puts your health at risk. Understanding how fast a tooth infection can spread is important for getting care on time and avoiding consequences that could be life-threatening.
Tooth infection, which is also called dental caries or cavities, is a common oral health problem in the United States that affects millions of people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2015 and 2018, 13.2% of 5–19-year-old children, 25.9% of 20–44-year-old adults, and 25.3% of 45–64-year-old adults did not treat their tooth caries. Caries can cause pain, tooth loss, and infections that can spread to other parts of the body if they are not handled. The CDC also says that both the number of people with tooth caries and how bad they are have gone down over time. However, there are still differences based on age, race, culture, income, and education level.
Imagine that you’ve been avoiding a toothache that seemed harmless but is now a constant, throbbing pain that makes it hard to eat, sleep, or think. You might wonder, “How long will it be until a tooth infection kills me?” This important question needs to be answered right away because ignoring a serious tooth problem can have very bad results. Let’s look at the facts and find out the truth about how long it might take for a tooth problem to turn into something that could kill you.
Understanding Tooth Infections
A tooth infection can become life-threatening if left untreated. However, the timeline varies person to person. Those with weakened immune systems or other health issues are at higher risk for developing complications faster. Generally, it takes weeks to months for a tooth infection to spread and cause serious problems.
The infection starts locally in the tooth and spreads to surrounding tissues. It can then enter the bloodstream and travel to other parts of the body. At this stage, it is considered a systemic infection. Vital organs like the heart, brain, and lungs are at risk. Sepsis, meningitis, brain abscess, and endocarditis are possible deadly complications.
Seeking emergency dental care at the first signs of infection is crucial. Symptoms include tooth pain, facial swelling, fever, and fatigue. Powerful antibiotics, drainage, and extraction of the infected tooth are typical treatments. Good dental hygiene and regular checkups help prevent infections from occurring in the first place.
With prompt treatment by a dentist, most tooth infections are curable and not life-threatening. However, neglecting an infected tooth even for a few weeks can have grave consequences. Do not wait to get help if you suspect an infection.
Various causes of tooth infection
Several factors can lead to a tooth infection:
- Dental Decay: Also known as dental caries or cavities, this happens when bacteria in the mouth produce acids that erode the tooth’s enamel and dentin, creating a path for bacteria to reach the pulp or root of the tooth.
- Gum Disease: Gum disease, or periodontitis, is a condition where the gums pull away from the teeth, creating pockets that can become infected.
- Dental Trauma: Any injury to the tooth, such as a chip or crack, can allow bacteria to enter the pulp, leading to an infection.
- Failed Dental Work: In some cases, dental work like a filling or a crown may not completely seal the tooth, allowing bacteria to enter and cause an infection.
Symptoms to identify tooth infection
The following are common signs and symptoms of a tooth infection:
- Throbbing Tooth Pain: This can range from mild to severe, and may be continuous or may come and go. It often worsens when you’re lying down.
- Swelling: Swelling in the cheek, jaw, or neck area may indicate an infection.
- Fever: A fever is a common sign of infection anywhere in the body, including a tooth infection.
- Sensitivity to Heat and Cold: Infected teeth often become sensitive to hot or cold food and beverages.
- Bad Breath or a Bad Taste in the Mouth: These symptoms may be present if pus is leaking into the mouth.
- Swollen Lymph Nodes: Lymph nodes in the neck or under the jaw often swell when there’s a tooth infection.
If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to seek dental care immediately. Early treatment can prevent the spread of the infection and potentially save the tooth.
The risks of tooth infections that aren’t treated
Immediate effects of tooth diseases that are not treated
Tooth infections that aren’t handled aren’t just a dental problem; they can also cause painful symptoms that make it hard to go about your daily life. Most of the time, the first sign is a severe, long-lasting toothache that can make it hard to eat, drink, or even sleep. There may also be an increase in how sensitive you are to warmth and pressure, swelling in your face or cheek, and swollen, painful lymph nodes under your jaw or in your neck. Pus that drains into the mouth from an infection that lasts too long can cause bad breath and a bad taste.
How a tooth problem gets worse over time
Without the right care, a tooth problem can get worse over time. At first, the bacteria hurt the inner pulp of the tooth, which is what most people call a toothache. As the infection gets worse, it can spread to the tooth’s root and the bones that hold it in place. In the worst cases, an abscess can form, which causes a lot of pain and swelling.
A tooth infection that isn’t addressed can cause damage to the teeth and jaw, as well as lead to gingivitis and the loss of the affected tooth. Over time, the germs that cause the illness can even spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream.
A detailed explanation of how an infection can become deadly
Even though it’s rare, tooth diseases that aren’t handled can kill you. The real risk comes from the fact that the virus could spread. If the infection moves to the jaw bone, it could cause osteomyelitis, a serious bone infection.
The germs could spread from the jaw to nearby tissues and organs, like the lungs, or even into the bloodstream, which is called septicemia. Once an infection gets into the bloodstream, it can spread to other parts of the body. This can lead to sepsis, a dangerous infection that affects the whole body.
If the infection gets to the brain through the bloodstream or by going straight to the brain, it can cause a brain cyst or meningitis, which are both very serious and can kill. In the same way, if the illness moves to the heart, it can cause infective endocarditis, which can damage the valves and function of the heart.
These problems show how important it is not to ignore a tooth infection and to get a dentist or medical care right away if you have signs that the infection is growing, like a fever, swelling, or a lot of pain.
When can a tooth infection kill you?
Case studies that show how long it takes for someone to die
Case studies have shown that it can take anywhere from weeks to months for a tooth infection to lead to death, based on the person’s health and how quickly the infection spreads. It’s hard to give an exact time frame, though. In a sad case, a 12-year-old boy from Maryland died just two days after an illness in his tooth spread to his brain. In another case, a 26-year-old man from Cincinnati ignored an illness in his tooth. Seven weeks later, he died from the consequences. Even though these cases are rare, they show how quickly and badly these infections can get worse if they are not treated.
How fast a tooth infection can kill you depends on a number of things.
There are several things that can affect how quickly a tooth infection can kill:
- The severity and spread of the infection: An infection confined to a tooth can take longer to become dangerous compared to an infection that has spread to the surrounding tissues or bloodstream.
- The individual’s overall health: Those with strong immune systems may be able to fight off the infection for longer. On the other hand, individuals with weakened immune systems, such as those with chronic illnesses, the elderly, or those undergoing treatments like chemotherapy, are at a higher risk.
- Access and response to treatment: A delay in seeking treatment or a lack of access to dental care can accelerate the progression of the infection.
- The presence of other health complications: Conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, or any illness affecting the immune system can hasten the spread of the infection and intensify the overall impact on health.
Because of all of these things, a tooth abscess can become a life-threatening problem very quickly. So, it is very important to take tooth problems seriously and see a doctor right away.
What other problems might I face if I have a tooth infection?
A tooth infection can spread to other parts of the body if left untreated. This is because bacteria from the infected tooth can enter the bloodstream and travel to different organs. Some of the possible complications of a tooth infection are:
Abscess: A collection of pus that forms around the infected tooth or in the jawbone. This can cause severe pain, swelling, fever and difficulty swallowing.
Sinus infection: A tooth infection in the upper jaw can affect the sinuses, causing congestion, headache and facial pressure.
Osteomyelitis: A bone infection that can occur when bacteria from a tooth infection reach the jawbone or other bones. This can cause bone pain, inflammation and loss of function.
Endocarditis: An infection of the inner lining of the heart or the heart valves. This can occur when bacteria from a tooth infection reach the heart through the bloodstream. This can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat and fatigue.
Sepsis: A life-threatening condition that occurs when the body’s response to an infection causes widespread inflammation and organ damage. This can occur when bacteria from a tooth infection enter the bloodstream and trigger a severe immune reaction. This can cause fever, chills, confusion, low blood pressure and organ failure.
How Long Can a Tooth Infection Be Ignored?
Ignoring a tooth infection may worsen oral health and cause systemic issues. Thus, at the first indication of tooth discomfort, swelling, or other symptoms, see a dentist. When dangerous bacteria infiltrate the soft pulp of a tooth, they cause inflammation and pus, causing a dental abscess. Untreated tooth infections may damage dental and general health. To avoid problems, knowing the vital timeline for treating tooth infections is essential.
A tooth infection’s development depends on the patient’s immune system, severity, and dental health. However, tooth infections usually progress with time.
A dental infection may first produce tooth sensitivity, chewing discomfort, and gum swelling. As the infection worsens, the jaw, neck, and ear may hurt. Bad breath, bitter taste, and fever are further symptoms. Dental fistulas, or gum boils, may form on the gum around the diseased tooth. This indicates that the infection is draining, but it does not address the issue.
Even early tooth infections may be dangerous. Infections may destroy surrounding tissues, including dental bone. If the infection becomes very bad, the tooth may die. Bacteria from the infected tooth might enter the bloodstream and produce systemic issues, impacting other organs and health.
Tooth infections need quick treatment. Symptoms should urge dental treatment. Dentists may identify and treat dental infections with root canal treatment or tooth extraction, depending on severity.
In the end, you should never ignore a tooth problem or wait to treat it. The critical timeframe in which you should get dental care is short, and you need to act quickly to avoid more problems. By taking care of a tooth issue as soon as it starts, people can keep their mouth healthy, save the tooth if they can, and keep their general health. If you think you have a tooth problem, you should see a dentist right away to get a good evaluation and treatment.