A Toothache Can Kill You

But the good news is, a visit to your dentist could literally save your life.  😀

BTW – as much as I like using photos to illustrate a point, no worries here, this post is safe to view at work, at home, around the kids, and will NOT upset your stomach at all.  No gory photos!

A Tooth Infection is REALLY Close to Your Brain & Throat

A-Toothache-CAN-Kill-YouAs I mentioned on our Facebook Fan Page earlier this week, it isn’t often that a general “family” dentist gets the opportunity to save a person’s life, but this week that happened here at our south Charlotte family dental office.  A young man came to us through 1-800-DENTIST, and he’d been absolutely miserable for almost a month.  The right side of his face was severely swollen, to the point he couldn’t open his right eye, and he had difficulty opening his mouth enough for us even to take a look and identify the problem tooth.  He could barely even talk, and was clearly exhausted from not being able to sleep well for a long time.

With a good x-ray and brief exam, the problem tooth was identified as an upper right molar (top right back jaw tooth) with a major cavity.  On the x-ray, it looked like the roots were close to the sinus, which explained why he had some really bad sinus pressure on that side, too.  Literally, the tooth abscess had penetrated his sinus.  And if the infection was into his sinus, that meant it was not all that far from his brain.  As most anyone knows, pretty much ANY infection that reaches the brain will put you in the hospital, and even if you survive, there is potential for severe brain damage.

If a lower jaw tooth abscesses that bad, the risk is a little different: the infection can spread through spaces between different tissue levels under the tongue, down the throat, and if it gets bad enough, can force your esophagus (your food goes down that) and trachea (the way air gets to your lungs) closed.  That means you can’t either eat or breathe!

Please Take a Dental Abscess Seriously!

After seeing the young man, we realized we had to act quickly, or he would end up in the hospital within 24 hours (probably a lot less than that).  Antibiotics, unless they are given by an IV or in extremely high doses, can take 12-24 hours before they build up to an effective level in your blood, so they don’t work that fast!  We made time in our schedule and were not only able to remove the tooth, but to drain an incredible amount of the infection away.  He could actually open his eye by the time he left!  But if we hadn’t seen him immediately, the incredible pressure from the infection would have just continued to build, the pain would have worsened, and eventually the infection would have forced its way, through whatever tiny space it could find, into his brain.

The Mouth is the Gateway to the Whole Body

It’s sad that more of the public isn’t made aware of how deadly a tooth abscess can be; people think to themselves, “It’s only a tooth/my gums, after all.”  But the teeth and gums provide a direct path into the rest of your body, and you have some extremely vital organs very close by.  Please don’t kid yourself……if there is major swelling of the face, it is SERIOUS.

A Happy Ending 😀

The good news in this story, is that we’ve seen the young man back each of the last 2 days to follow-up.  While the swelling hasn’t disappeared completely (the antibiotics will eventually take care of that), today he was able to actually smile when he shook my hand, and after 2 nights of awesome sleep, he said that he feels like a new man.

And that, dear friends, is one of the reasons I absolutely LOVE being a dentist!

What Can Be Done for a Tooth Abscess?

So if you have an abscess, here are somethings you can do for some relief (besides the obvious first step of calling a dentist ASAP):

  1. Cold compress – an ice pack of some kind, placed over the area for 15-20 minutes, with at least 30 minutes in between sessions, can provide a lot of relief
  2. Alternate Ibuprofen and Tylenol for better pain relief than either alone.  Take 2-3  ibuprofen, wait 3 hours, take 2 Tylenol Extra Strength, then just keep alternating.
  3. Warm salt water rinses – if there’s any sores or bleeding, the salt water will sooth it.  1 tsp in a normal-sized coffee cup, rinse for 30-60 seconds every hour.
  4. Avoid hard, crunchy, pointy foods (chips, nuts, hard bread)
  5. Avoid foods/drinks that are either really hot or really cold.

Now here are the things your dentist might recommend for treatment:

  1. If the tooth is fixable, and likely to last a long time, a root canal and crown
  2. If the tooth is too broken or decayed to fix, an extraction may be the only choice.

If the tooth has to be extracted, you have 4 basic choices:

  1. Do nothing and leave the space.  While this will have consequences down the road (other teeth moving can mess up your bite and smile), it’s always a choice.
  2. A partial or complete denture.  This is usually the least expensive replacement, but many people don’t like it, because you have to take it out to clean it and it doesn’t look as natural.
  3. As long as there are teeth on either side of the extraction, you can get a dental bridge.  A bridge is basically several crowns that are connected, and the teeth on the side of the space support it just like a bridge over a river.  The upsides are that you don’t have to take it out, it can look very natural, and especially if the teeth supporting the bridge need treatment anyway, you fix several problems at once.  The downside is mostly that you do have to drill on other teeth, and if they’re healthy…..yeah….not a good idea there.
  4. Dental implants.  No doubt about it, a dental implant, supporting either a crown, bridge, or denture, is the best way to replace one or more missing teeth.  Rock solid, they may last the rest of your life.  Of course, it’s also the most expensive in the short term, but long term, it’s definitely the best way to go.


To make an appointment for a Complimentary Consultation:

Request an Appointment Online or call us at 704-364-7069.

We’ll look forward to meeting you soon!

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