An untreated tooth infection might seem like a minor inconvenience. But the truth is that small infections can develop into bigger problems, and even spread to other areas of the body. The presence of a tooth infection is an indication that bacteria has moved into the soft tissue and is causing damage.
If the infection is treated in a timely manner, then the body can heal. On the other hand, an untreated infection can continue to get worse, eventually causing a situation where the body’s immune system is no longer able to keep up with the infection.
Can a Tooth Abscess Kill You?
If you are wondering how long until a tooth infection kills you, you first need to understand how the infection develops and then spreads to other areas of the body. If bacteria penetrate into your tooth and reaches the soft tissue area located in the center of the tooth (known as pulp), then an infection will usually develop.
Over time, this infection can continue to progress, resulting in an abscess that can form around the infected tooth. This abscess is a pocket of infection and pus, and it will continue to worsen and can cause severe symptoms, including pain, toothache, and more.
Many years ago, before the development of modern dentistry, tooth infections were a common cause of death. In fact, until 1908, 10 – 40 percent of tooth infections led to death. These numbers are shocking, especially because death from a tooth infection is quite rare in our modern, developed society.
Now that we have many advances in dental knowledge and treatments, it’s not common for someone to die from a tooth infection. People might ask, can a tooth infection kill you? The answer is: it’s very unlikely because of the medical treatments that are now available.
When is a Tooth Infection Life-Threatening?
How long before a tooth infection kills you? The better question to be asking is: how long does it take for a dental infection to spread to the heart? Just because a tooth infection is present, doesn’t mean that your life is at risk. But if the infection turns septic and/or reaches the heart, then it can interfere with the major organs and cause serious health issues that could possibly lead to death.
How can a tooth infection kill you? Potentially life-threatening complications can occur from an untreated tooth infection, including:
- Sepsis: The infection spreads through the body and a severe reaction occurs.
- Necrotizing Fasciitis: Serious infection that starts to kill soft tissue in the mouth and throughout the body.
- Mediastinitis: Inflammation that occurs between the lungs and can interfere with breathing.
- Endocarditis: Inflammation that affects the inner lining of the heart.
- Blood Clots: Infection can result in the formation of blood clots, particularly in the sinuses. Since these clots are near the brain and eyes, they could lead to severe complications.
- Brain Abscess: The spreading of the infection into the brain can cause a formation of pus in the brain area.
- Osteomyelitis: An infection that develops in the bone tissue and can continue spreading.
Patients don’t always develop these complications from a tooth infection. But medical providers and dentists watch for potential signs, in case the condition continues to worsen and affect other parts of the body.
Risk Factors That Increase the Likelihood of Complications
Keep in mind that some patients have certain risk factors that increase the likelihood of serious complications from severe tooth infections. If you have any of these risk factors, then it’s even more important to seek dental care and medical treatment as soon as possible:
- Older Age: Older adults have a higher risk of tooth infections leading to serious, life-threatening conditions. It’s more common for older adults to experience severe complications in a short amount of time.
- Diabetes: People with diabetes are at-risk for other health complications, including severe tooth infections that can lead to fatal results.
- Immune Function: Patients who are immunocompromised have problems with the infection-fighting responses in the body. As a result, there could be a higher risk of complications from a tooth infection.
- Malnourishment: The whole body is weakened when there is a lack of nourishment, which can make it harder for the body to fight against infections and associated complications.
How Long Until a Tooth Infection Kills You?
If you are wondering how long before a tooth infection kills you, it’s important to understand the timeline of how the infection develops and spreads. The initial step is the development of a tooth abscess, which begins with tooth decay. As the decay progresses, it can take several months for the abscess to occur. It takes a while for the tooth decay to reach the pulp in the middle of the tooth.
But this process can happen more quickly if there is trauma or an injury to the tooth. This weak point in the tooth brings the bacteria into the middle of the tooth faster. So, a serious tooth infection is more common after an injury happens to a tooth.
When the abscess is present, you will likely have a toothache and notice swelling around the affected tooth. This stage of a tooth infection can go on for weeks or even months before a patient seeks emergency dental care. The longer the infection is left untreated, the higher the likelihood of the infection spreading to other parts of the body.
Once the infection starts spreading to the brain, heart, neck, and more, if medical treatment isn’t administered, then it’s possible for death to occur quickly – even within a few days. But most people seek medical and dental care in time and treatments can be used to stop the infection before death occurs.
How Do You Know If a Tooth Infection Has Spread to Your Blood?
If the infection spreads to your blood, then it is known as sepsis. This severe infection can be quite serious and is one of the potential causes of death from a tooth infection. But rest assured knowing that sepsis after a bacterial infection is rare. If it occurs, then it could be life-threatening if the medical treatments aren’t administered correctly.
What are the chances of getting sepsis from a tooth infection? The risk is very low if you treat a tooth infection in the earliest stages. The longer a tooth infection goes untreated, the higher the risk of sepsis. So, early detection and treatment is key to preventing this serious systemic infection.
Two-Step Approach for Treating Severe Tooth Infections
If a serious tooth infection occurs, then it’s likely that the dentist will recommend the use of antibiotics to stop the infection as soon as possible. Depending on the severity of the infection, these medications can be given in an oral pill format, or administered through an IV to get the antibiotics into the bloodstream as quickly as possible.
While the antibiotics can stop the infection, it’s also necessary to treat the underlying cause: the tooth decay. If the tooth is salvageable, then the dentist might recommend a root canal. This treatment removes the infected and damaged portions, including the pulp and soft tissue in the middle of the tooth. Then, a restorative treatment is used to seal up the tooth and rebuild the structure of the tooth (often by using a crown).
In some cases, the tooth is no longer salvageable and the dentist might recommend a tooth extraction. This treatment is usually the last resort. While it isn’t ideal to remove the tooth, it is sometimes necessary to address the infection and stop it from spreading to other parts of the body.
Ask a Dentist: How Long Until a Tooth Infection Kills You?
Even though it can take weeks or months for a severe tooth infection to develop and spread to other areas of the body, don’t take the risk by delaying dental treatments. If you can tell that there is a problem with your tooth, then it’s critical to seek dental care as soon as possible to avoid potential complications.
The best way to maintain a healthy smile that lasts a lifetime is through a proactive approach with preventive dentistry. Maintaining regular dental exams is an important step to catching potential issues in the earliest stages, which helps to reduce the risk of developing a serious tooth infection that can lead to severe health issues or even death.
At myDental, we offer the full-service dental care that your family needs. Learn more and schedule an appointment at one of our nearby locations. We are always here to answer your questions and provide recommendations for your personalized dental treatments.