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June 24th, 2024

How Do You Know When a Tooth Is Infected? Recognizing the Signs

Oral health is a major component of overall well-being, yet it's often overlooked until a problem arises. One such problem is a tooth infection, which can lead to significant discomfort and severe health complications if left untreated. 

But how do you know when a tooth is infected? 

Learning to recognize the signs that a tooth is infected and the accompanying symptoms can help you protect your oral health and avoid the serious consequences of an untreated infection. 

Understanding Tooth Infections

A tooth infection occurs when bacteria invade the dental pulp—the innermost part of the tooth containing nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue. This invasion typically happens due to a cavity, crack, or trauma to the tooth that allows bacteria to enter and multiply. 

As the infection progresses, a pocket of pus forms at the site, leading to a dental abscess. This pus pocket is your body's response to the bacterial infection. 

What are the Causes of Tooth Infections?

Understanding the causes of tooth infections can prevent them and help with early detection. Knowing how to recognize the common causes that can lead to such infections.

Untreated Cavities

Dental cavities, or caries, result from tooth decay caused by bacterial activity. Cavities that are not treated promptly can penetrate deeper into the tooth, reaching the dental pulp. The bacteria responsible for the cavity can enter the pulp chamber, causing infection and inflammation.

Trauma to the Tooth

Physical damage to a tooth, such as cracks, chips, or fractures, can occur from accidents, sports injuries, or biting on hard objects. These openings allow bacteria to bypass the protective enamel and dentin layers, directly accessing the dental pulp.

Gum Disease

Periodontitis is an advanced form of gum disease that affects the tissues and bones supporting the teeth. It results from plaque buildup and bacterial infection in the gums. Severe gum disease can cause the gums to recede and form pockets, where bacteria can accumulate and eventually infect the tooth root and surrounding tissues.

Poor Oral Hygiene

Inadequate brushing, flossing, and a lack of regular dental checkups can lead to plaque and tartar buildup. Plaque and tartar harbor bacteria, which can cause cavities and gum disease, which are pathways to tooth infections.

Common Symptoms of a Tooth Infection

Finding out how do you know when a tooth is infected involves recognizing the common symptoms of a tooth infection. 

Here are some of the most common symptoms of a tooth infection, elaborated for better understanding:

Persistent, Throbbing Toothache

A continuous and severe toothache is one of the hallmark signs of a tooth infection. The pain is often described as throbbing and can be intense enough to interfere with eating, sleeping, and daily activities.

Pain in the Jaw, Ear, or Neck

The pain from a tooth infection can radiate beyond the tooth itself, affecting the jaw, ear, and neck. This spreading pain is often a sign that the infection is becoming more severe and possibly spreading to surrounding tissues.

Swollen Face, Cheek, or Neck

Visible facial, cheek, or neck swelling is a common symptom of a tooth infection. The body's immune response to the infection results in inflammation and fluid accumulation in the tissues surrounding the infected tooth. The swelling may cause noticeable puffiness and discomfort in the affected area.


A fever, or elevated body temperature, is a common systemic response to infection. The presence of bacteria and the immune system's response to it can cause an increase in body temperature as part of the inflammatory response. It indicates that the body is attempting to fight off the invading bacteria.

Foul Taste

A persistent bad taste in the mouth, often described as metallic or foul, can be a symptom of a tooth infection. The presence of pus and bacterial byproducts from the infection can lead to an unpleasant taste in the mouth. This taste may be especially noticeable when eating or drinking.

Persistent Bad Breath

Bad breath that doesn't go away after brushing and flossing can be another indicator of a tooth infection. The bacteria causing the infection release foul-smelling compounds, which contribute to persistent bad breath, known medically as halitosis. 

Pimple on the Gums

One of the most definitive signs of a tooth infection is the presence of a pus-filled abscess. This may appear as a pimple-like swelling on the gums. The abscess can cause swelling, pain, and pressure.

Red, Inflamed Gums

Red and inflamed gums around the affected tooth are a common symptom of a tooth infection. This is your body's immune response to bacterial infections, which leads to increased blood flow in the affected area, causing your gums to become red and swollen. 

Discoloration of the Tooth

Your infected tooth may change color, becoming darker than the surrounding teeth. This discoloration can range from slight yellowing to a noticeable gray or brown hue.

Loose Tooth

An infected tooth may feel loose or mobile when touched or when chewing. This can be a sign of advanced infection affecting the structures that support the tooth.

Contact your dentist immediately if you notice any of the above symptoms. Early detection and treatment are crucial for managing the infection effectively.

What are the Treatments for a Tooth Infection?

Some of the treatments that are available for tooth infections include:

  • Antibiotics:

     Antibiotics prescribed by your dentist can help reduce infection and inflammation but often need to be used in conjunction with other treatments to resolve the infection completely.

  • Draining the Abscess:

    Draining the abscess helps remove pus and reduce pressure, alleviates pain, and promotes healing. This provides immediate relief from the pain and pressure caused by the infection. 

  • Root Canal Treatment:

    Root canal treatment removes the infected pulp from inside the tooth, cleans and disinfects the root canals, and seals them to prevent re-infection.

  • Tooth Extraction:

    Extracting the tooth removes the source of the infection, which helps prevent it from spreading to other teeth or parts of the body.

Tips to Prevent a Tooth Infection

Now that you are aware of ""How do you know when a tooth is infected?"" it can also be beneficial to know the valuable tips that can help you prevent a tooth infection. 

Maintain Proper Oral Hygiene

Maintain proper oral hygiene by using fluoride toothpaste and brush for at least two minutes each time. This helps remove plaque and food particles that can lead to cavities and infections. Employ flossing to remove plaque and food particles from between your teeth and under the gumline. 

Regular Dental Checkups

Schedule regular checkups with your dentist for professional cleanings. These visits can allow your dentist to detect early signs of tooth decay, gum disease, or other issues that could lead to infections.

Eat a Healthy Diet

Limit sugary and acidic foods which erode tooth enamel and promote bacterial growth. Reduce your intake of sweets, sodas, and acidic fruits.

Avoid Tobacco Products

Smoking and using other tobacco products increase the risk of gum disease and tooth infections. If you smoke, seek support to quit.


Understanding the signs and symptoms of a tooth infection is crucial for maintaining your oral health and preventing serious complications. 

If you notice any symptoms of a tooth infection, it is important to contact your dentist immediately. You can ensure a healthy, pain-free smile by staying informed about the signs of a tooth infection and taking proactive steps to care for your teeth.

If you are ready to learn more about how to know when a tooth is infected or are currently suffering from a tooth infection, schedule a consultation with Franklin Dental Care to find the right treatment options. 


Can a tooth infection kill you?

Yes, a tooth infection can kill you if it is not treated promptly and appropriately. While such severe outcomes are rare, they highlight the importance of taking dental infections seriously. If you suspect a tooth infection, do not delay—contact your dentist or seek emergency medical care to ensure the infection is managed effectively and safely.

When does a tooth infection turn into an abscess?

A tooth infection turns into an abscess when bacteria infiltrate the dental pulp, causing a severe infection that accumulates pus. If you experience persistent tooth pain, swelling, or other signs of an infection, seek dental treatment promptly to avoid complications and ensure effective management of the condition.

Dr. Gurshant

Medically reviewed by Dr. Gurshant Grewal - a Registered Dentist on June 24th, 2024

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