A Toothache Can Kill You

Yes, a toothache really can kill you, but visiting your dentist could literally save your life.  😀

BTW, the post is SFWK (Safe for Work or Kids).  As much as I use photos to illustrate points, no worries here.  This post will NOT upset your stomach at all.  No gory photos!

Infection from a Toothache is REALLY Close to Your Brain & Throat

A-Toothache-CAN-Kill-YouAs I mentioned on our Facebook Fan Page previously, it isn’t often that a family dentist gets to save a person’s life.  It has happened here at our south Charlotte dentist office.  A young man came because of a horrible toothache.  He’d been absolutely miserable for almost a month.  The right side of his face was severely swollen.  He couldn’t even open his right eye.  He had difficulty opening his mouth enough for us to even see the problem tooth.  Talking was difficult, and he was exhausted from not sleeping well.

With a good x-ray & exam, the problem tooth was identified as an upper right molar.  It had a gigantic cavity.  On the x-ray, it looked like the roots were close to the sinus, which explained the really bad sinus pressure.  It wasn’t just a toothache though; it had a very large abscess, which had penetrated his sinus.  As the infection was already into his sinus, it wasn’t far from his brain.  As everyone knows, ANY infection reaching the brain will put you in the hospital.  Even if you survive, there could be severe brain damage.

If a lower jaw tooth abscesses that bad, the risk is a little different.  The infection can spread through spaces between tissues under the tongue, then down the throat.  If it’s bad enough, it closes off your esophagus (your food goes down that) and trachea (the way air gets to your lungs).  That means you can’t eat or breathe!

Please Take a Dental Abscess Seriously!

We acted quickly by numbing him up and extracting the tooth right away.  If we hadn’t, he would have ended up in the hospital within 24 hours.  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!  If we hadn’t seen him immediately, the infection would have continued building, the pressure & toothache would have worsened.  Eventually the infection would have forced its way, through whatever path 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.  Don’t let a toothache go so long, that the infection leads to swelling.

A Happy Ending to a Toothache

The good news in this story, is that we saw the young man for follow-up, and he made a great recovery.  Two days later, he actually smiled when he shook my hand.  After 2 nights of awesome sleep, he felt like a new man.

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

What Can Be Done for a Toothache & Abscess?

If you have an abscess, here are some things you can do for 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.

After an extraction, you have 4 basic choices:

  1. Do nothing and leave the space.  The teeth around it and above or below it will move over time & can mess up your bite and smile though.
  2. A partial or complete denture.  This is usually the least expensive replacement.  Many people don’t like it, because you take it out to clean it, it doesn’t look as natural, and it’s not as good as chewing.
  3. If there are teeth on either side of the extraction, you can get a dental bridge.  A bridge is basically several connected crowns. The teeth on the side of the space support it, like a bridge over a river.  The upsides are: you don’t have to take it out, and it looks very natural.  If the teeth supporting the bridge need treatment anyway, you fix several problems at once.  The downside is drilling on other teeth; if they’re healthy, that’s not a good idea.
  4. Dental implants.  A dental implant, supporting either a crown or bridge, is the best way to replace one or more missing teeth.  Rock solid, they may last the rest of your life.  It’s the most expensive in the short term, but long term, it’s definitely the best way to go.


To make an appointment for a Dental Emergency:

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

We’ll look forward to meeting you soon!

Back to blog home