Symptoms of Tooth Infection Spreading to the Body

To know the symptoms of tooth infection1 spreading to the body, first we need to understand how an infection starts.

Are you aware that the oral cavity is one of the parts of the human body that harbors the highest number of microorganisms? That is the reason why oral health plays a crucial role in our general health and well-being.

Poor dental hygiene leads to dental infections and possibly even more deadly diseases.

Ever wondered what happens when you neglect a dental cavity? Well, you might not be aware of it, but yes, it can be life-threatening.

On the bright side, it doesn’t happen overnight but progresses gradually. The process of spread involves various stages showing a lot of red flags. First of all, let’s see what causes a tooth infection.

1. Dental Infection

Dental infections occur when the microorganisms get the better of our defenses and enter the bloodstream. This condition can happen either when tooth decay reaches the pulp tissue or through the supporting structures such as the gums.

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Such infection leads to tooth pain and bleeding gums. When that happens, proper treatment of the affected tooth, or scaling and curettage of the entire oral cavity often halts the symptoms of tooth infection spreading to the body.

Most tooth infections may even remain asymptomatic for a while and then show sudden exacerbations.

Regardless of the symptoms, it spreads into the surrounding tissues. When the infection is left untreated, it may cause further trouble. Chronic untreated tooth infection may lead to a condition called a dental abscess.

2. Dental Abscess/Tooth Abscess

An abscess is nothing but a localized collection of pus. There are two major types of dental abscesses: periapical abscess and periodontal abscess.2

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a) Periapical abscess

When we don’t take care of an infected tooth on time, the infection spreads via the tooth root to the deeper tissues. The bacteria gets concentrated near the root apex and multiply, causing throbbing pain and visible swelling in the oral cavity.

Even the abscessed teeth can be treated by a root canal treatment and prescription antibiotics.

b) Periodontal abscess

Improper maintenance of good oral hygiene3 leads to gum disease. The infection spreads from the gums to the surrounding tissues leading to a periodontal abscess. It is similar to a periapical abscess in most aspects, except that it starts due to gum infection.

The symptoms are similar to those mentioned above, but the tooth gets mobile and needs extraction. This kind of tooth abscess is managed by thorough scaling combined with oral antibiotics.

Not all abscesses are present as throbbing toothache or mouth swelling. They can be mild or asymptomatic too. When we fail to get an abscessed tooth treated, the abscess ruptures and spreads to multiple tissues of the face leading to facial cellulitis.4

3. Cellulitis

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Unlike an abscess, cellulitis is not confined to a particular space. It spreads to various tissues and may even involve the entire cheek. Here the question is, how do you know if your tooth infection reached the stage of cellulitis?

Besides pain, there will be a diffused swelling over the face’s infected side, which is firm on touch. The lymph nodes in the neck also get enlarged.

These are the initial symptoms of tooth infection spreading to the body. Since it is predominantly a bacterial infection, dentists pull out the infected teeth and prescribe antibiotics to manage cellulitis.

a) Ludwig’s Angina

Of all the symptoms of tooth infection spreading to the body, Ludwig’s angina is a life-threatening one that requires immediate medical attention. It is a form of cellulitis and involves all the spaces around the lower jaw.

The initial location where the infection starts is usually around the lower molars. It may result from an infected or cracked tooth, infected salivary glands, or, a bone infection.

The classic symptom of Ludwig’s angina is an acute board-like swelling of the floor of the mouth leading to elevation of the tongue.

It is life-threatening because it spreads rapidly to the throat and neck, making it difficult to breathe and swallow. Recognizing these symptoms early and seeking a dentist saves us from grave danger.

Treatment for Ludwig’s angina is like that of cellulitis. In severe cases, the dentist immediately drains the pus through a small incision under the chin. It is failing to seek treatment at the earliest that leads to death by suffocation or sepsis.

4. Septic Shock

It is a serious medical condition caused basically when the infection reaches the bloodstream. It is one of the terminal symptoms of tooth infection spreading to the body.

When our body cannot fight the spreading infection anymore, our immune system overreacts to the infected tissue causing a condition called sepsis which eventually leads to septic shock.

How to Know?

Suppose you are aware of the presence of an active infection in your body for a few days and suddenly feel your extremities going cold and your heart pounding. You may also have stomach pain, fever with chills, and feel restless or lethargic.

In that case, you are experiencing the symptoms of tooth infection spreading to the body, and it is time you go to the emergency room immediately.

What to do? 

As it is a blood infection, the doctor immediately puts an intravenous drip for antibiotics and prescribes certain medications to ease the pain and inflammation. But finding the tooth infection and removing that tooth and a bit of bone surrounding the tooth helps in a faster recovery.

Another Serious Tooth Infection

Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis

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Not all tooth infections spread in the same manner. Sometimes the tooth infection spreads directly through the blood vessels leading to a serious medical condition called cavernous sinus thrombosis.5 It is one of the most infrequent, yet life-threatening symptoms of tooth infection spreading to the body.

 i) Why is it Life-Threatening?

The blood from the upper teeth drains into two small channels called the cavernous sinuses located in the skull on either side. After reaching the sinus, the bacterial infection forms clots in the blood vessels and hinders the blood flow in the head. Since it is present in the skull, it can spread quickly to the brain, thus making it a life-threatening infection.

ii) What are the Symptoms?

A few commonly seen symptoms include protruding eyeballs, swelling of eyelids, impaired vision, and increased tears. There are also symptoms of tooth infection spreading to the body, such as headache, pain, and fever with chills.

But it is impossible to arrive at a diagnosis based solely on these symptoms. So, often a CT or an MRI is taken to be sure of an infection.

iii) Treatment

Drainage of the infected site followed by intravenous antibiotics to control the infection and anticoagulants to dissolve the clot at the earliest saves from mortal risk.

A few Common Treatments you Should be Familiar With

1. Dental Fillings

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Robert Przybysz on Shutterstock

When tooth decay is within the enamel and dentin, it is enough to fill the dental cavity with a suitable material. Such placement of restoration in the tooth is called a dental filling. Nevertheless, if the infection is left untreated, it may damage the adjacent teeth as well.

2. Root Canal Treatment

If the tooth decay is deep, the dentist suggests getting a root canal treatment done. Here, the tooth infection is cleared to the root using various small instruments in multiple steps.

3. Root end Resection

Occasionally, the infection flares up even after root canal treatment. However, this does not happen to everyone. When this happens, cutting the tip of the tooth root by leaving the rest of the tooth intact eliminates the infection.

In the majority of cases, the tooth infection concentrates near the tooth root itself. So, taking off the tip is effective.

4. Abscess Drainage

Instead of pulling the tooth out for a tooth abscess, the dentist sometimes drains the abscess through a small nick. The doctor does drainage only when the tooth in question appears to be sound to arrest symptoms of tooth infection spreading to the body.

To Sum Up

It all starts as a deep cavity or a throbbing tooth. Getting dental treatment right away after noticing tooth infections saves you from the symptoms of tooth infection spreading to the body. Tooth infection, if left untreated, leads to severe infections which compromise our immune system and can be fatal.

Since oral health influences general health, prevention of symptoms of tooth infection spreading to the body is always better than a cure for more serious symptoms. Maintaining good dental hygiene by brushing twice daily and using dental floss and mouthwash will prevent tooth infections by wiping out the risk factors for a tooth infection.

If you find this article helpful or have anything else to discuss, please drop a comment below and let us know your views on this topic.

Infected Tooth And Related Health Problems
Icy Health
  1. Massignan, Carla, et al. “Signs and symptoms of primary tooth eruption: a meta-analysis.” Pediatrics 137.3 (2016). ↩︎
  2. Herrera, David, Silvia Roldán, and Mariano Sanz. “The periodontal abscess: a review.” Journal of Clinical Periodontology: Review article 27.6 (2000): 377-386. ↩︎
  3. Ramfjord, S. P., et al. “Oral hygiene and maintenance of periodontal support.” Journal of periodontology 53.1 (1982): 26-30. ↩︎
  4. Rath, Eivind, et al. “Aetiology and clinical features of facial cellulitis: a prospective study.” Infectious Diseases 50.1 (2018): 27-34. ↩︎
  5. Desa, Valmont, and Ryan Green. “Cavernous sinus thrombosis: current therapy.” Journal of oral and maxillofacial surgery 70.9 (2012): 2085-2091. ↩︎

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