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Can Bad Teeth Make You Sick?

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Can a bad tooth make you sick? The short answer is 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 if left untreated, it can have serious consequences. But don't let this scare you. You can take steps today to establish good oral care habits and reduce your chances of developing dental problems like decay, cavities, and infections. 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?

An infection causes tooth abscesses. They can occur on the tip of the root or in the gum at the side of the root and appear as a pocket of pus. Typically people get abscesses due to cavities, injury, or prior dental work. Dental professionals will usually drain the abscess to address the infection, and in some cases, perform a root canal or tooth extraction.

Symptoms of an abscess might include: 

  • A throbbing and painful toothache
  • Sensitivity to hot and cold
  • Sensitivity and pain when chewing
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck and jaw
  • Gum redness and swelling
  • Swelling in the face and neck
  • Fever
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing

According to the Cleveland Clinic, you’re also more likely to develop an abscess if you smoke, have a weak immune system, have a dry mouth, or have poor oral hygiene.

What Happens If an Abscess Isn't Treated?

An untreated abscess is a dangerous condition because the infection may continue to spread to the surrounding tissue and bone, which can lead to more health complications. 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. Sepsis is the medical term for our bodies' sometimes extreme response to infection. When your body experiences sepsis, the infection you have triggers a chain reaction to the rest of your body and can lead to serious conditions like tissue damage, organ failure, and have serious long-term effects. So if you’re wondering if a rotten tooth or cavities make you sick, the answer is yes.

If you think you’re experiencing an abscess, call your dental professional. Depending on your symptoms, you may need immediate care, and your dental professional may instruct you to go to the emergency room. Otherwise, your dental professional may have you schedule an appointment with them so that they can prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection and drain the abscess, which can decrease the swelling and speed up the healing process.

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 you can take steps to establish good oral care and reduce your chances. Brush your teeth twice per day using fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush. Clean between your teeth once per day with floss, water flossers, or another interdental cleaning device, and visit your dental professional for a checkup and professional cleaning at least once every six months.

Remember: a tooth abscess won’t just go away—it needs to be treated. If you suspect that you have an infection, visit your dental professional as soon as possible. And if 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, help prevent tooth infections, and have a sparkling, healthy smile.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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