Tooth Infection

A tooth infection can be very painful. And there are three basic types.

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The first type is an infection inside your tooth, in the living pulp tissue. This comes from tooth decay or severe irritation. Ordinarily, when bacteria grow in your body, your body responds by sending antibodies and white blood cells to fight the bacteria. Because of this body response, the tissue will swell. For minor infections, the antibodies and white blood cells may completely eliminate them, without the outside help of antibiotics. However, inside your tooth, this natural defense mechanism breaks down because there is no room for antibodies and white blood cells. And antibiotics are of no help here either. Therefore, when your tooth becomes infected, it will not recover, and the pulp tissue will die. The treatment for this condition is a root canal treatment. With a root canal, the soft tissue inside your tooth is removed and replaced with a sealer material that keeps infection from seeping back into the tooth.

There is a second type of tooth infection which occurs in the bone around the end of the tooth. You will get what is called a tooth abscess. An abscess may or may not be painful. When bacteria are in the bone, your body can fight them with antibodies and white blood cells. The problem is that there is a constant supply of new bacteria to the region from the dead tissue inside your tooth. Your body may or may not be successful in walling off the infected area, so an abscess can go on for years without hurting. But the risk of damage is great. The abscess can grow and spread, and it can even cause the root of your tooth to be gradually dissolved. Treatment, again, would be a root canal procedure. In the case of a failed root canal, you will also have an abscess forming. Treatment in this case would be retreatment or root canal surgery. Read more about this possibility by clicking this link.

The third type is a gum infection. This occurs in the gum tissue. Again, your body can fight this. It can also result in an abscess. The treatment for this is very different, and involves thoroughly cleaning the root surface, removing tartar and other irritants, and other procedures to fight gum disease. There are many grades and types of gum infections, and there are specialists called periodontists that are trained exclusively in treating the gums.

A subdivision of this type would be a wisdom tooth infection, which occurs in the surrounding gum and is treated with a tooth extraction.

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—By Dr. David Hall