Can Bad Teeth Make You Sick?

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Unhealthy teeth don't only pose cosmetic concerns — they have a direct impact on your overall health. So, can bad teeth make you sick? Yes, eventually. Poor oral health allows bacteria to build up in your mouth and potentially cause infections. An infection in the tooth is called an abscess, and, left untreated, this type of infection can have serious consequences. Here's what you need to know about the health issues stemming from tooth abscesses and how to maintain a healthy mouth.

What's an Abscess?

Poor oral care can lead to dental decay, cavities, gum disease and other oral health problems. A tooth abscess is one such problem. This bacterial infection occurs when severe tooth decay or trauma allows bacteria to infect the center of the tooth, called the pulp, explains Cleveland Clinic. A tooth abscess is often painful and can cause the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • A sore on the gums
  • Swelling at the site of infection
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Loosening of the tooth
  • General feeling of illness
  • Foul taste and odor in the mouth

Sometimes, when the abscess bursts, the pain may subside, but it's still important to get dental treatment, notes the Mayo Clinic.

What Happens If an Abscess Isn't Treated?

According to the Mayo Clinic, an untreated abscess is a dangerous condition because the infection may continue to spread to the surrounding tissue and bone. If the jaw and neck become infected, the individual may have difficulty breathing or swallowing. People who have weakened immune systems are particularly at risk of the infection spreading.

An untreated tooth abscess can also trigger sepsis, according to the Mayo Clinic. Sepsis is the medical term for our bodies' sometimes fatal response to infection, explains the Sepsis Alliance. Worldwide, sepsis kills one-third of people who develop the condition, and survivors are often left with damaged organs, chronic fatigue and pain, post-traumatic stress disorder and even, occasionally, amputations.

Individuals who suspect they may have an abscess should visit their dentist immediately. The dentist can prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection, and they may be able to drain the abscess to remove the pus, decrease the swelling and speed the healing process, according to Cleveland Clinic.

How to Prevent a Tooth Abscess

Can bad teeth make you sick? Yes — poor oral health can eventually lead to potentially dangerous dental issues, like abscesses. But don't let this scare you. You can take steps today to establish a habit of good oral care and reduce your chances of developing dental problems like decay, cavities and infections.

Brush your teeth twice per day using a soft-bristled toothbrush, but don't press hard, as brushing too hard can damage your tooth enamel. For the same reason, avoid opening packages with your teeth and chewing on hard objects. Floss between your teeth once per day, and visit your dentist for a checkup and professional cleaning at least once every six months.

If you suspect your teeth aren't in the best shape or you haven't visited a dental professional within the last six months, book an appointment. Working with your dentist, you can establish a strong oral care routine and help prevent tooth infections.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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  • About 90 percent of people with mouth cancer and some types of throat cancer have used tobacco. The risk of developing these cancers increases as people smoke or chew more often or for a longer time.

  • Smokers are six times more likely than nonsmokers to develop these cancers.

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