Man brushing his teeth in bathroom mirror

Can Bad Teeth Make You Sick?

Can a bad tooth make you sick? The short answer is yes, eventually. Poor oral health allows germs to build up in your mouth and potentially cause problems. A build-up of pus 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 cavities and other problems. 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?

A build-up of germs can cause a tooth abscess. 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 clear the problem, and in some cases they may 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 United States 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 dangerous, because the condition may continue to spread to the surrounding tissue and bone, which can lead to more health complications. If the jaw and neck become affected, the individual may have difficulty breathing or swallowing. People who have weakened immune systems are particularly at risk of the issue 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 or 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 book an appointment with them so that they can prescribe antibiotics to treat the problem 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 check-up 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 abscess, 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 problems, and have a sparkling, healthy smile.

Want more tips and offers sent directly to your inbox?

Sign up now