How Can I Tell If My Tooth Is Infected?

A tooth infection results from bacteria gaining entry to your tooth’s pulp that contains nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissues. The bacteria enter when your tooth is cracked, decayed, or have a periodontal or gum disease.

When the bacteria infect the pulp, they form a pocket filled with pus that is called an abscess.The abscess requires treatment to prevent further damage to the tooth, gum, jaw, and whole body.

There are several ways you can confirm a tooth infection, the first obvious symptom being a toothache. This article will show you the symptoms of a tooth infection, when to seek medical attention, and what could happen if you fail to get treatment.

Most Common Signs Your Tooth Is Infected

There are many symptoms of a tooth infection. These include;

  • Toothache. An aching tooth is the most common sign that something is wrong with your tooth. It manifests as debilitating pain that seems to get worse with every movement and activity you do.
    This pain often results from an abscessed pulp that puts a lot more pressure on the gums and bones.
  • Tooth discoloration. If you notice your tooth changing color, often darkening, it could mean you have a tooth infection.
  • Swollen gum with pus. You will notice a part of your gum swells around the affected tooth, and this swelling may be filled with pus.
  • Swelling and tenderness in other areas connected to your mouth. When your tooth is infected, you will experience swelling in your jaw and face.
    Also, this swelling may spread to lymph nodes under the jaw or in your neck. This swelling is often accompanied by pain.
  • Fever is a common sign of a tooth infection.
  • Sensitivity. Sensitivity in your tooth happens when the nerves in the pulp are interfered with by swelling and pus. You will be sensitive to cold or hot foods and drinks, and when biting or chewing.
  • Foul smell and taste. If the abscess ruptures, it releases the pus into your mouth, and you will feel a sudden rush of bad or salty taste and a foul smell in your mouth.

What Causes A Tooth To Become Infected

Tooth infection occurs when you have an entrance for bacteria into your dental pulp. This entrance can come from a cracked or broken tooth, gum disease, a decaying tooth, or a recent tooth treatment, like a root canal.

The bacteria can come from different sources. Commonly, it originates from dirt that enters into the pulp. The dirt can result from poor dental hygiene or a foreign body getting embedded into your gum.

Injury to the gum can leave your gum exposed to bacteria, especially with poor dental hygiene. Other risk factors related to dental health, such as diets and dry mouth, can directly lead to teeth infections.

If you consume sugary foods, you expose your teeth to the risk of cavities that pave the way for bacteria. Some types of medication also leave your mouth dry and expose you to the risk of tooth decay.

When the bacteria forge entry, they produce pockets of pus, and these form the infection. Pus shows that there is an infection. In dental health, the pus is a tooth abscess.

There are three types of tooth abscesses:

  1. Periapical abscess where bacteria enter your pulp from within, usually through a tooth cavity or crack in the tooth. This type of abscess occurs at the tip of a tooth’s root.
  2. Periodontal abscess caused by gum disease. It also happens when bacteria from injuries to the gum. This type of abscess occurs on the gum near the root of a tooth.
  3. Gingival abscess where bacterial comes from foreign objects embedded in the gum. These are objects like food particles, e.g., popcorn hulls, or toothbrush bristles. The abscess occurs on the gum.

When To See A Dentist For An Infected Tooth

It would be best if you got medical attention immediately when you notice symptoms of a tooth infection.

A tooth infection is unlikely to go away without treatment. The abscess must be drained by a dentist to prevent the infection from spreading further along your jaw, head, and neck.

You should seek a dentist’s treatment to relieve pain, drain the abscess, and perform any other procedures that will be dictated by the severity of your infection. The following are treatment options the dentist may recommend.

  • Draining the abscess. When you have visible pus in your gum, the dentist will make a small incision and drain it entirely. After, they will clean the area with a saline solution to ward off bacteria.
  • Tooth canal. The dentist may opt to drill into the tooth and drain any excess pus, and then remove the affected pulp.
    Then, they will fill the pulp and seal it to leave no room for bacteria. In instances, they will give you the option to crown the tooth at a later appointment to leave it strong enough for normal functions.
  • The dentist can also recommend extracting the tooth if it is too damaged. This procedure would include removing the tooth first and then draining the abscess.
  • If you have a foreign object stuck in your gum, a dentist will carefully remove it and clean the area with a saline solution.
  • Antibiotic treatment. The dentist will offer antibiotics to clear the infection.

What Happens If You Don’t Get An Infected Tooth Treated

An infected or abscessed tooth requires professional treatment to ward off even worse outcomes. If untreated, it poses the risk of further spreading the infection to areas like the jaw, neck, and head.

According to Mayo Clinic, an untreated tooth abscess can lead to a life-threatening infection called sepsis. A weak immune system can accelerate sepsis.

The signs that your infection is spreading to other body parts include fever, increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, dehydration, swelling, etc.

Another consequence of not treating an abscess is it can lead to more damage to your teeth and gum. If an infection is ignored for too long, you may have to extract the tooth or fill a damaged pulp.

How to prevent a tooth from getting infected

It is vital to avoid events that lead to tooth decay and injuries to the gum and teeth. To avoid tooth decay, you should observe tremendous dental hygiene by doing the following.

  • Brushing daily with a fluoride toothpaste.
  • Replacing your toothbrush every three months.
  • Limiting foods high in sugar and eating enough calcium to improve your bone health.
  • occasionally use an antiseptic mouth rinse to kill bacteria and prevent tooth decay.
  • Visit the dentist for regular dental checkups.


An infected tooth is not only painful and uncomfortable; it can also be life-threatening. As soon as you learn you have an infection, you should immediately visit a dentist and get treatment.

Where you can’t get to a dentist soon enough, you can purchase over the counter medications such as painkillers to reduce the pain as you plan an appointment with the dentist. After treatment, the infection starts to clear within a few days.

To avoid the risk of a tooth infection, practice good oral and dental hygiene, eat a healthy diet and undertake regular dental checkups.

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