Tooth infections are usually caused by bacteria, which means treatment will likely involve antibiotics. Here, we’ll learn all about tooth infections and the best antibiotic to treat a tooth infection.
What is a dental abscess?
Our mouths are full of bacteria, which is why it’s important for us to brush, floss, and rinse multiple times daily. When bacteria build up, they can invade your teeth or gums and create what’s known as an abscess, a sac full of pus and bacteria.
What are the most common symptoms of a tooth infection?
If you’ve never had an infected tooth before, you might be wondering how you’d know if your tooth was infected. Pain is often the most common sign of a tooth infection. Unfortunately, this pain isn’t always confined to the tooth itself. Because our teeth are connected to so many nerves, pain from an infected tooth can extend into the jaw, face, and neck. Talk about discomfort!
Other signs to look for include:
- Tooth sensitivity to heat, cold, and/or pressure
- Tenderness around the tooth
- Swelling of the mouth, jaw, or face
If you have a dental abscess that bursts open on its own, you might taste a strong, salty fluid that could also smell bad.
Can you treat a tooth infection without antibiotics?
There are ways to relieve the pain and swelling associated with your infected tooth. Saltwater rinses with or without baking soda, hydrogen peroxide rinses, and cold compresses can all help with these symptoms. But a dentist will be able to let you know whether you need further treatment.
If so, your dentist will start at the source of your infection—the abscess, a pocket of pus that forms around the tooth as a result of an infection. If the abscess doesn’t burst on its own, your dentist will drain it intentionally. And if the abscess is bad enough, you may need a root canal or tooth removal.
Getting rid of the abscess is important, but you might also need antibiotics to get rid of any bacteria that are still in the area.
How can I tell if my tooth infection has spread?
Untreated infections in your mouth can easily travel to your brain. Symptoms of a brain abscess or brain infection could include:
- Stiff neck
- Changes in consciousness, mood, or vision
Untreated tooth infections can also spread to your bloodstream, causing a life-threatening infection called sepsis. Warning signs of sepsis are:
- Higher or lower than normal body temperature
- Fever and/or chills
- Confusion and extreme drowsiness
- Severe pain and overall feeling of being unwell
If you have any symptoms that might indicate your tooth infection has spread, visit an emergency department immediately.
What is the best antibiotic to treat a tooth infection?
You’ll likely take antibiotics for 7-10 days to get rid of your tooth infection, and dentists have a few options for which antibiotics they might prescribe.
Penicillin, amoxicillin, and amoxicillin with clavulanate all belong to the class of antibiotics called penicillins. Amoxicillin is usually the first choice for tooth infection treatment. Clavulanate is a drug that makes amoxicillin even more effective when the two are combined. So if it appears that your tooth infection is more serious, your dentist may prescribe amoxicillin with clavulanate instead of plain amoxicillin.
If the bacteria causing your tooth infection is resistant to amoxicillin or you have a true penicillin allergy (e.g., penicillin causes your mouth or throat to swell), your dentist may prescribe clindamycin instead.
Metronidazole is another antibiotic that could be useful for treating a dental infection. Don’t be surprised if your dentist prescribes penicillin and metronidazole for extra bacteria-fighting power. Just be mindful to avoid all alcohol or alcohol-containing products—mouthwash, for example—while taking metronidazole to avoid becoming seriously ill.
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