The Dangers of Ignoring a Dental Abscess
An infected tooth or infection in the gums is called a dental abscess. Like any infection, a dental abscess can cause a myriad of dangers if left untreated. Dental abscesses can be particularly hazardous.
Most people find they have no choice except to have an abscessed tooth treated; the pain it causes can be quite extreme, sometimes to the point of making daily activity impossible. Some people, however, choose to suffer through the pain in the hope that the problem will clear up on its own.
Problems a Dental Abscess Can Cause
Choosing to ignore a dental abscess is extremely unwise and potentially life threatening. An infection in the tooth or gums can lead to:
- Infection of the surrounding bone. Facial bones, particularly the maxilla and mandible, do not tolerate the long-term presence of infection very well. If infection spreads into these bones, surgical removal of the bone may be required in order to arrest further spread. Even in cases where these extreme measures are not necessary, the infection can cause marked weakening of the bone structures, which makes it more difficult for the jaw to support the teeth.
- Tooth loss. If an abscessed tooth is diagnosed and treated early, root canal therapy and a crown can often save the tooth. When the abscess persists without treatment, however, endodontic therapy may not be possible due to weakening of the tooth or the risk of spreading the infection. In these cases, tooth replacement treatments such as dental implants will be necessary to restore oral function, provided that the infection has left enough bone integrity to support an implant.
- Infection in oral soft tissues and sinuses. Since the roots of several upper teeth extend into the sinus area, an abscess in one of these teeth can lead to a painful sinus infection. Additionally, the soft tissues of the mouth and surrounding areas are susceptible to the spread of infection, which can cause a number of complications from facial cellulite to complications with the airway.
- Septicemia. Septicemia is when the entire bloodstream becomes infected. The body’s natural response to an infection is to increase antibodies in the area by sending extra blood. Septicemia from a dental abscess occurs when a pocket of infection ruptures, spills into this blood, and begins to circulate throughout the body. This is an incredibly life-threatening condition that often requires long-term hospitalization and intravenous antibiotics.
- Abscess of the brain. A brain infection is also extremely dangerous and usually requires hospitalization for treatment. Infection from a dental abscess can enter the brain in a number of ways, usually by one of the methods described above. A brain abscess can be quite difficult to treat because of the blood-brain barrier.
Of course, the worst possible danger of failing to treat a dental abscess is death. Widespread infection in the body or brain can become so severe that no amount of antibiotics is able to control it.
Treating a Dental Abscess before it Becomes Life-Threatening
Many people are hesitant to treat a dental abscess because of financial limitations or dental anxiety. Considering the possible outcomes of ignoring a dental abscess, however, the cost of treatment is well worth the time and money. Endodontic therapy and antibiotic treatment can save your tooth—and perhaps even your life.
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