Infections can occur anywhere in the body – including in the mouth. Although the tongue, inside of the cheek, and tonsils can all become infected, dental infections usually refer to infections that occur in the teeth or gums. The most common forms of dental infections are cavities and gum disease, usually due to poor dental hygiene, both of which can lead to abscesses (a painful swelling filled with pus). Dental work, oral surgery and injuries to teeth can also put patients at risk of infection. Left untreated, dental infections can lead to sepsis.
In the United States, dental cavities are the most common disease in both adults and children. Fifty percent of children between six and eight years of age have dental cavities, and 85 percent of adults have at least one tooth with decay or a filling on the crown.
Tooth decay occurs when bacteria make acid that eats through the layers of a tooth and causes a cavity. The more layers of the tooth that are penetrated, the more severe the decay and the higher the likelihood of serious health problems, including severe infection. A tooth abscess may form inside the tooth, showing up at the root and spreading to the surrounding bone.
Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, affects the tissues and bones that surround the teeth. Like tooth decay, gum disease is caused primarily by a buildup of bacteria in the mouth from poor dental hygiene, which causes plaque to form. However, hormonal changes such as those that occur during pregnancy and menopause as well as illnesses that impact the immune system, such as HIV or cancer, can also be responsible. During the early stages of gum disease, called gingivitis, gums become inflamed and bleed easily during brushing. If not resolved, gingivitis can become periodontitis, causing the gums to pull away from the teeth and form pockets, which collect debris and become infected, forming a gum abscess.
Symptoms of Dental Infection
Preventing Dental Infections
Fortunately, dental infections are preventable in the majority of cases with good oral hygiene habits. These include:
Infection after Dental Procedure
Despite the best efforts of dentists and dental hygienists, infection can result from both routine dental procedures, such as teeth cleanings and fillings, and more complicated ones, such as tooth extractions and root canals. You may be prescribed a preventative antibiotic before some types of procedures and can ask your dentist whether you require one. People with certain health conditions, such as heart disease, are more susceptible to bacterial infections, such as endocarditis, from dental work.
Dental Infection in Children
Pediatric dental disease is the most prevalent chronic illness in children in the United States. It can have a negative impact on many aspects of a child’s overall health and development, including causing serious bacterial infections that can lead to sepsis and, in certain circumstances, death.
Here are some tips to keep your little one healthy:
Visit our friends at America’s ToothFairy for more information on children’s oral health.