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A dental infection can arise from factors such as tooth decay, advanced gum disease, poor oral hygiene, failed previous dental work, or trauma to the mouth and teeth. The bacterial overgrowth in an acute infection results in a fluid buildup (abscess) and swelling, which is accompanied by heightened pain and sensitivity. The thing to remember about these infections is that they won’t go away on their own and will require dental intervention – the sooner, the better. The hallmark signs of infection are pain, swelling, heat, and redness. As an infection progresses, a fever will usually be detected.

If you find yourself with a painful tooth and suspect an infection, you will need to have it treated to prevent it from spreading to your jaw, head or neck. Dental infections have the potential to spread rapidly, and can require hospitalization if not treated early. Treatment may require a root canal to remove the infected pulp of the tooth, or it may require removal of the offending tooth. In addition, more severe infections may require an incision and drainage if there is a collection of fluid (abscess). Antibiotics are also routinely prescribed to help resolve the infection more rapidly.

Causes of Dental Infections

-Untreated cavities, deep or large fillings: Oral bacteria produce acid which erodes the hard structure of the tooth. When it reaches the pulp (nerve and blood supply of the tooth) it travels down the root canal and into the surrounding bone. From there it can travel into surrounding tissues. This is known as a periapical infection.

-Dental trauma: Injury or trauma that damages and kills the tooth nerve, which can cause an infection.
-Periodontal infections: A dental infection that develops from bacteria invading the structures (gum and bone) that support the tooth.

Immediate Home Self-Care

To help ease the symptoms of infection until you can be seen, you can take the following measures to find temporary relief:

-Rinse the mouth gently with warm salt water.
-Take OTC medications like ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol).
-Stay away from temperature extremes (hot or cold foods/beverages).
-Chew carefully on the opposite side of the mouth.
-Stick to soft foods that won’t aggravate the tooth.

Treatment

The best treatment is prevention. We encourage you to be proactive in your oral care to keep your teeth and gums healthy and avoid dental complications from developing. This should include brushing with a fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day, flossing between teeth and around the gumline at least once a day, limiting sugary, starchy foods and beverages, and keeping all scheduled dental checkups with your dentist.

Most early infections can be treated by your general dentist. If he or she believes the tooth is able to be saved, then periodontal treatment or root canal (endodontic) treatment may be required, depending on the cause of the infection. If the tooth does not appear restorable, extraction of the tooth will be advised. If the infection is more severe, or past the general dentist’s comfort level, you should see an oral and maxillofacial surgeon.

Our surgeons at Loudoun OMS, Drs. Bluhm, Dorsch and Vandervort, are very experienced in managing even the most severe dental infections. In cases where hospitalization is required, they all are on staff at INOVA Loudoun Hospital, where more aggressive antibiotic or surgical treatment can be provided as needed. We will see you quickly and do what is needed to get you feeling better and on the road to recovery.