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Serious Infections

Oral and maxillofacial surgeons are dentists who have an extra four to six years of training. Among other things, they are trained to treat infections in the head and neck region. They treat many types of infections. Some are infections of the head and neck that have spread beyond the teeth. With good oral hygiene and regular visits to your dentist, you may avoid developing infections.

These infections have a few common causes:

  • An infection of the pulp (center) of a tooth
  • An infection from a wisdom tooth that has come in only partway
  • An infection that occurs after a tooth is removed
  • A gum infection
  • An infection caused by an injury
  • An infection caused by blocked flow of saliva

Symptoms of an infection include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Difficulty opening the mouth
  • Redness
  • Fever
  • Problems swallowing or breathing (with severe infections) — If you are having problems breathing, this is an emergency. You need immediate medical attention.

If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your dentist. If your infection is confined to one area, your dentist can often treat it without referring you to an oral and maxillofacial surgeon. If your dentist is not available and you do not have an oral surgeon close by, you should go to your local emergency room for treatment. You may need a surgeon if:

  • The infection has spread
  • The infected area is very swollen
  • The infection is making you ill
  • You are having problems swallowing or breathing

Treatment will vary depending on what is causing the infection. If the pulp is infected, the dentist may be able to save the tooth with a root canal or it may need to be removed. If you have a swelling with pus, the oral surgeon or dentist may need to make a small incision (cut) to drain the pus.

Many infections do not spread. But some spread quickly throughout the face and jaw, making it difficult to open your mouth, swallow and control your saliva. There have been reports of infections from teeth in the upper jaw spreading into the brain. In some cases, infections involving teeth on the lower jaw have led to breathing problems. Therefore, you should not ignore signs of infection in the mouth. If you notice a swelling in your head and neck region, including your mouth, go to see your dentist or physician quickly. Then they can diagnose what is causing the swelling and treat it.

©2002-2013 Aetna, Inc. All rights reserved.

3/5/13

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