What happens if you leave a dental abscess?

I wasn’t on air last week because I had the mother of all toothaches. It came on suddenly and then was unbearable. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat and I couldn’t even talk.

I had a tooth abscess, an infection around the root of the tooth. They are caused by tooth decay, dental injury or gum disease. My teeth are really prone to cracking, so it likely happened when the tooth was being filled some years ago (it’s happened before on a different tooth…). The dentist said that the infection in the nerve of my tooth had probably been festering for a really long time and had finally burst into the gum. I’m faced with root canal or extraction – or both if I’m unlucky.

Now, there was no way I was going to be able to ignore the pain, but I wondered to myself: what would happen if I didn’t do something about it?

Put simply, if you don’t treat a dental abscess, it can kill you.

A tooth abscess will not get better on its own as antibiotics cannot get to the main infection inside the roots of the tooth. An untreated abscess can cause:

  • infection of the surrounding bone
  • tooth loss 
  • infection in oral soft tissues and sinuses
  • septicaemia (infection of the entire bloodstream)
  • abscess of the brain. 

None of these are appealing, especially when you consider how serious they all are.

Dental health and broader health effects

A serious infection like mine is no picnic, but there’s also wider potential effects of bad dental health that most people don’t know about.

In the last 20 years or so, it’s become clear that poor dental health is associated with a wide range of broader health issues, such as:

  • heart disease
  • gastrointestinal and colorectal cancer
  • diabetes and insulin resistance
  • respiratory infections
  • low birth weight and other pregnancy complications
  • Alzheimer’s disease.

The cause and effect relationships are not clear, but researchers believe that the bacteria in the mouth are producing chemicals and other metabolites that influence the immune system as a whole. It’s well-known that systemic, long-term inflammation is a risk factor for many diseases (all of the above, for example and more).

Dental care is expensive and it’s not always pleasant going for your six-monthly check-up but it’s genuinely important. Brushing properly and flossing are super important too (yes, I know. I don’t do it either). The prevention truly is better than the cure in this case.

Source article: Tooth abscess, The Dangers of Ignoring a Dental Abscess, Systemic Diseases Caused by Oral Infection, Association between periodontal pathogens and systemic disease and Chronic inflammation in the etiology of disease across the life span.

I talked about this with Danny Hoyland on West Bremer Radio on 19 March 2022. Listen each week: Saturday 7.40 am, West Bremer Radio.

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