If I have an infection in my tooth, is that dangerous?

I don’t know hardly anything about dentistry, but I think a broken tooth is causing me some real problems. Last Friday, one of the teeth in the very back of my mouth broke in to pieces. One piece came out, but the other ones are still in there. This is the very back tooth on the right hand side. Since that happened, things have been getting worse and worse.

A couple of days after it happened I started getting shooting pains in my jaw on that side, and my cheek started to ache. Then a day or so after that my sinuses started to really bug me. Yesterday this pain in my temple started, and this morning my neck was really sore when I woke up. Can all of that be from just that one broken tooth??

I don’t have any money or any insurance. I went in to the free clinic and they gave me some antibiotics, but they don’t seem to be helping much. The doctor at the clinic said I should get the rest of the tooth pulled, but I don’t have the money for that. He also said that an infection in my tooth could be dangerous. Is that even true? I didn’t know teeth could get infections!

So, do you think I have an infection in my tooth, and is the doctor right that it could be dangerous?


Teddy in Baton Rouge

Dear Teddy,

Yes, the doctor is right, and the infection is dangerous. What remains of your tooth is infected, and that infection is spreading pretty rapidly. The antibiotics are actually making that situation worse right now, because they can’t reach the source of the infection. Without first treating the tooth, which is the source of the infection, all antibiotics do is make the bacteria that remain resistant to antibiotics. If the tooth can be saved you’ll need a root canal treatment. If it can’t they’ll just have to extract the tooth.

You must have this taken care of. A good place to start might be the free clinic you visited. Ask them if they know of any clinics or and emergency dentist in town who will work with patients that don’t have insurance or money. If they don’t have any information, call the local dental society, or the hospital. Be persistent! Keep calling until you find out how people in your community get dental help under these circumstances.

This is very important. Infections in the teeth can spread to the brain and cause infection there, or to the throat and cause swelling that can be life threatening. Don’t delay. Get this fixed.

This blog posted courtesy of Mesa Arizona dentist Dr. Stapley.

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