While there tends to be a lot of focus on other areas of our body, and even raised awareness about our emotional well-being, our oral health still does not receive the national attention that it deserves.  

This month, your McAllen pediatric dentist at Heroes Dental wants to focus on raising dental infection awareness and give you insight on how this condition can affect you or your loved ones.  


An Introduction to Dental Infections

Dental infections are serious health issues that begin at the tooth or its supporting structures. When not properly treated, an infection can spread to the surrounding tissue and even to other areas of the body where it can lead to catastrophic health problems.

Dental infections commonly occur when invasive bacteria begins to spread into the tooth’s pulp and surrounding tissues as a result of trauma, cavities (dental caries), or even a dental procedure. On the other hand, periodontitis — or serious gum disease — is caused by poor or ineffective dental hygiene that leads to gingivitis. If your gingivitis is not treated, then over time, it can become periodontitis.  

Oftentimes, a dental infection becomes noticeable because of the formation of a tooth abscess. This is a pocket of pus that is formed either at the tip of the root or on the gums at the side of the tooth root.

Symptoms of a Dental Infection

There are several notable signs that you or your little one may be suffering from a dental infection/tooth abscess. If any of the following signs or symptoms are noted, then it is in your best interest to seek dental care immediately: 

  • A severe toothache that has spread out to the jawbone, neck, or ear. 
  • Acute sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures (including hot or cold foods).
  • Pain or sensitivity when chewing or biting.
  • A fever. 
  • Swelling on your face or cheek. 
  • Tender, painful, or swollen lymph nodes around your jaw or on your neck. 
  • Foul-smelling breath in your mouth. 
  • Salty and/or foul-tasting fluid in your mouth. 

If you or your loved one are having trouble breathing or swallowing, then it is vital to seek medical care immediately. These symptoms may indicate that the infection has spread to other areas of your mouth or even into other areas of your body. 


What Causes Dental Infections

There are a number of causes and risky behaviors that can lead to dental infections. Avoiding these factors behaviors can protect you and your loved ones: 

  • Bad dental hygiene and oral health. The leading factor for most dental health issues, failure to take care of your teeth and gums can greatly increase the risk of tooth decay, gum disease, cavities, tooth abscess, and other issues.
  • A diet high in sugar. An obvious cause for concern, bacteria thrive on sugar. A diet rich in candies, sweets, and sodas is going to lead to serious troubles. It’s best to balance out treats with plenty of healthy foods, especially vegetables. 

How to Protect Against Tooth Decay & Infections

The key to avoiding tooth infections is to prevent tooth decay. Thankfully, there are several manageable steps that you can take daily to limit your risk of developing dental health issues that can lead to infections, including: 

  • Drink plenty of fluoridated water. Not only does this help to strengthen your teeth, but it also prevents dry mouth, which can increase your risk of tooth decay. 
  • Make sure to brush your teeth at least twice daily with fluoridated toothpaste. (Learn more about adding fluoride in your diet.)
  • Make sure to floss on a daily basis. This is extremely important to your oral hygiene but one that very many people fail to do. 
  • Avoid tobacco (smoking or smokeless products) and other unhealthy behaviors that can cause damage to your teeth.
  • Make sure you and your family visit Heroes Dental regularly for professional cleanings.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly made it a challenge to get back into our regular routines (and to visit the dentist), it’s still important to take the necessary precautions to protect you and your loved ones’ oral health. 


Diagnosing a Dental Infection

If you believe that you or your child are suffering from a dental infection, you’ll want to take note of any symptoms and pain you are experiencing, and visit a dentist immediately (or an emergency room if necessary). 

When diagnosing a dental infection, your McAllen pediatric dentist at Heroes Dental will look for: 

  • The abscess near or around your teeth or gums. 
  • Decay that has begun to affect your teeth. 

Our dentist will also use tools to check for sensitivity and other tell-tale signs. Generally, we’ll recommend taking an x-ray to determine exactly where the abscess and infection may be, as well as to determine whether the infection has spread to other areas. In situations where the infection has indeed spread, other medical scans may be required, including CT scans.  


Treating a Dental Infection

The goal of treatment is to remove the infection in your mouth and out of other areas of your body if necessary. In order to treat the condition, your dentist may take several steps, including: 

  • Creating a small incision and draining the abscess. This step helps to drain the pus from an abscess. Your dentist will then wash the area out and may use other tools to keep the area open while it drains. 
  • Performing a root canal. If the decay has reached your pulp and created the need for a root canal, then your dentist may decide to perform this procedure. In a root canal, the dentist will use specialized tools to remove the decaying tissue (pulp) and remove the infection. A multi-step process, they will then fill and seal your tooth, and then they may use a crown to help better protect the saved tooth.
  • Removing the tooth. If sufficient damage has been done to the tooth and a root canal will not help to improve the situation, then your dentist may have to remove the tooth. This is done to remove the infection and prevent it from spreading. Once your tooth has been removed, you will want to inquire about additional procedures to replace the missing tooth, as teeth can begin to move if there is space between them.
  • Antibiotics to stop the infection. Depending on your specific situation, your dentist may prescribe antibiotics to stop the spread of the infection. This is generally done if the infection has moved to other teeth, your jaw, or into your throat. 



What Happens If I Don’t Treat My Dental Abscess

There are a variety of serious complications that can arise if you fail to treat your dental abscess and infection. Possible issues that can arise, and which you should be cautious of, include:

  • Dental Cysts: The bottom of the root of your tooth may become filled with fluid. This fluid-filled cavity can then become a dental cyst, which greatly increases the risk of infection. Generally, you may need antibiotics and surgery to correct the problem. 
  • Osteomyelitis: This is a serious condition where the infection gets into the bloodstream and begins to affect the surrounding bone. This can be a painful experience and antibiotic treatments are needed to stop the spread.
  • Maxillary sinusitis: While not a serious condition, it can be a painful one. Bacteria can spread into the sinus area behind the cheekbone, cause discomfort and pain. Antibiotics are sometimes prescribed to sufferers. 
  • Ludwig’s angina: This occurs when the infection spreads to the floor of the mouth, affecting the tongue and neck. In severe cases, a medical procedure may be required to open up airways to improve breathing difficulties. This condition can be fatal.
  • Cavernous sinus thrombosis:  While this is an extremely rare complication, it is one of the most serious as it can be fatal. In this condition, the bacteria/infection causes a blood clot to form in the vein at the base of the brain. Antibiotics, and sometimes surgery, are needed to treat this. 

Suffice to say that failure to take care of a dental infection can lead to a life-threatening situation.  

Statistics About Dental Infections

Did you know that dental infections were one of the leading causes of death hundreds of years ago? In the 1600s, infections and other teeth-related issues were the 5th or 6th leading causes of death. Even up to 1908, it was believed that dental infections had mortality rates of 10 to 40 percent. 

While modern dentistry techniques and tools have certainly improved over the years and made the condition manageable, there are still plenty of troubling statistics, including:

  • 13 percent of adults seek dental care for dental infections or toothaches within four years. 
  • It’s estimated that 1 out of 2,600 Americans are hospitalized because of dental infections. 
  • More than 1 in 5 Americans are dealing with untreated dental decay or cavities. 
  • An estimated 35 percent of Americans aged 30 to 90 years old are dealing with periodontitis. 

Unfortunately, dental decay (or dental caries), which are a leading cause of dental infections, are most prevalent in adults. According to research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 90 percent of adults are suffering from dental decay while 42 percent of children 6 to 19 years old have cavities. 

Make Your Oral Health Your #1 Priority This September

Protecting ourselves and our little ones from dental infections should be your number one priority in September, October, November, and all year long. Here at Heroes Dental, our McAllen dentists want to do their part to protect you and your loved ones. 

While we understand that you may have concerns about the coronavirus, please know that we frequently sanitize all equipment and offices. We also follow CDC guidelines and protocols to best protect our dentists, staff, and most importantly, you and your little ones. 

In need of essential dental care? Do not hesitate to contact Heroes Dental today to schedule your next appointment!


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