Can a Tooth Infection Spread to Jaw?

An abscess of the tooth is a pocket of pus which results from a bacterial infection. Tooth abscesses can occur for various reasons in different areas of the tooth. Periapical abscesses occurs at the root’s tip and periodontal abscesses take place at the side of the tooth’s root in the gums. This article will primarily discuss periapical abscesses. Periapical tooth abscesses typically develop due to an injury, untreated cavity, or because of past dental work.


A tooth abscess is treated by the dentist draining it and removing the infection. A root canal can often aid in preserving the tooth. In some cases, however, the tooth must be extracted. When a tooth abscess is not properly treated, it can result in serious, long-term complications.


Below are some of the most common signs and symptoms of a tooth abscess:

  1. Challenges with swallowing or breathing
  2. Fever
  3. Hot and cold sensitivity
  4. Pain when chewing or biting
  5. Ruptured abscess which results in a foul odor and taste in the mouth; the patient may also experience pain relief
  6. Swelling of the cheek of face
  7. Tender, swollen lymph nodes around the neck and face
  8. Throbbing toothache which is severe and persistent; the ache may even reach the neck, ear, or jawbone


Follow up with a dentist right away if you experience any of the above symptoms. Patients with a fever or swelling who are unable to contact their dentist should go directly to the emergency room. Patients should also go to the emergency room immediately if they are having difficulty with breathing or swallowing as these symptoms can suggest that the infection has spread.


Tooth abscesses occur when the dental pulp is invaded by bacteria. The pulp is innermost area of the tooth and it contains nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue. Bacteria typically enters through a dental cavity, a chip, or a crack in the tooth. One bacteria has entered, it will spread down to the root and can cause swelling and inflammation.


The following risk factors can increase a patient’s risk for experiencing a tooth abscess:

  • Dental hygiene: Patients who neglect to properly care for their teeth and gums through twice daily brushing and flossing are at an increased risk for tooth decay, gum disease, tooth abscess, and other issues.
  • High sugar diet: Consuming sugary foods and beverages can increase the risk for having a dental cavity which can turn into a tooth abscess.
  • Dry mouth: Patients with a dry mouth are at an increased risk for tooth decay. Aging and certain medications can often cause a patient to have a dry mouth.


Tooth abscesses will not go away on their own and require treatment. In the event of a ruptured abscess, it may temporarily alleviate the pain. However, dental treatment is still required. Abscesses which are not drained, can spread infection to the jaw or other areas of the neck and head. In severe cases, the patient may develop sepsis. Sepsis is a life-threatening infection. Patients with an untreated tooth abscess and a compromised immune system are at an increased risk for the spread of infection.


Patients must practice good oral hygiene in order to prevent tooth decay, an abscess, and the spread of infection. The below steps can aid in preventing tooth decay:

  • Brush the teeth at least twice each day using a fluoride toothpaste
  • Consume a well-balanced and nutritious diet, limit food and drinks which are high in sugar
  • Daily flossing
  • Drink fluoridated water
  • Make regular visits to the dentist for an examination and professional cleaning
  • Regularly replace a toothbrush once the bristles are frayed or about every 3-4 months

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