Common Tooth Infection Symptoms to Look Out For

A toothache is never a good thing. And sometimes, it could be a sign of something much more serious, such as a tooth infection.

But how do you know if your symptoms are the result of an infection requiring immediate dental care?

Here’s a look at the most common tooth infections, their symptoms, and why you should seek emergency dental care if you think you have an infection.

What is a Tooth Infection and Why Does it Happen?

A tooth infection occurs when bacteria enters a tooth through a chip, crack, or cavity. Tooth infections can also result from gum infections when gum disease is present.

Poor dental hygiene, dry mouth, and a high-sugar diet will increase your risk of getting a tooth infection.

If you don’t floss daily and brush your teeth at least twice a day, then you can’t remove the bacteria that build up on teeth.

The lack of saliva present with dry mouth will also lead to an increase in bacteria since there isn’t enough saliva to clean the mouth.

And diets that are high in sugary foods can also lead to tooth infections since sugar leads to plaque buildup. When plaque builds up on teeth, this bacteria produces an acid that wears down the tooth enamel, making teeth more vulnerable to cavities and abscesses.

Types of Tooth Infections

Here are the most common types of tooth infections:


Gingivitis is the early stage of gum disease. It is caused by plaque buildup on the teeth that irritates and inflames the surrounding gum tissue.

Plaque is a film of bacteria that forms on the teeth and produces toxins that irritate the gums. As a result, this leads to red, swollen, and bleeding gums.

Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease (also known as periodontitis) is an advanced stage of gum disease. It occurs when gingivitis is left untreated. Periodontitis damages the gum tissue and bone that support your teeth and can eventually lead to tooth loss.

When left untreated, the infection from periodontal disease can enter your bloodstream and spread to other parts of your body.

Tooth Abscess

A tooth abscess is a pocket of pus that can form in different parts of a tooth. An abscess can form from a bacterial infection that enters the nerve of the tooth through a cavity or gum disease. It can also be caused by a foreign object, such as a piece of a popcorn kernel, getting stuck in the gums.

Signs of a tooth abscess include severe toothaches with a fever, sensitivity to hot and cold, swollen lymph nodes, and pain that radiates to your jaw, neck, or ear.

Dental Caries

Also known as cavities, dental caries occur when bacteria from leftover sugars and carbohydrates form an acid that eats away at tooth enamel and dentin. If caught early, dental caries can be reversed. But if left untreated, the decay will eat away at the tooth, eventually down to the root, and can lead to tooth loss.

Symptoms of a Tooth Infection

While there are many different types of tooth infections, most have similar symptoms that shouldn’t be ignored.

Common signs of a tooth infection include:

Persistent and Recurring Toothaches

Severe tooth pain could be the symptom of a cavity. And if left untreated, tooth decay can worsen and spread to the rest of your tooth and jawbone. So if your toothache lasts for more than a week, visit your dentist immediately.

Tooth Pain or Sensitivity

Throbbing tooth pain is a tell-tale sign of a tooth infection. Often, this throbbing pain is also felt in the ear, neck, or jawbone on the same side as the tooth pain. And the pain will also worsen when you lie down.

A cavity that penetrates the dentin of a tooth will create a breeding ground for bacterial infections that feed off of and make the tooth sensitive to hot, cold, acidic, sticky, and sugary foods. The infected tooth will also be sensitive to pressure.

Tooth sensitivity is often caused by either a cracked tooth or infected and inflamed pulp within the tooth. And if left untreated, these may require root canals or tooth extractions.


A fever is a sign that your body is trying to fight off an infection. So, if you have a fever, but you don’t have any other cold or flu symptoms, the fever could be a sign of a tooth infection.

To help your body fight off a tooth infection, your dentist will prescribe antibiotics.

Sore, Inflamed, Red, or Bleeding Gums

If there is an infection in your gums, the gums will be swollen, red, sore, and may also bleed, especially when flossing and brushing. This inflammation is caused by bacteria toxins irritating and damaging gum tissues.

Swelling and Tender Lymph Nodes

When your teeth are exposed to too much bacteria, your lymph nodes will swell. So if your neck and jawline are swollen and tender, consult with your doctor or dentist.

Seeing Holes or Deep Pits Within the Teeth

Cavities usually start as small white spots on the tooth surface. And as a cavity progresses, it will eat away at the enamel.

When holes or deep pits become visible on a tooth, this is a sign that a cavity or infection has worsened.

Deeply Stained Teeth

While some food and drinks can stain teeth—e.g. coffee, red wine, and dark sodas—there is another type of tooth stain to keep an eye out for.

A discoloured spot—a different colour than your tooth—is a sign that the enamel or dentin is affected by an infection.

Risks of Leaving a Tooth Infection Untreated

When an oral infection is left untreated, the bacteria can infect the dead tooth and cause dental abscesses. Signs of a tooth abscess include swelling, severe pain, and tooth loss. And if the infection spreads to other areas of your body, it can cause other serious and sometimes life-threatening health risks.

Signs that an infection has spread to other areas of your body include:

  • Fever
  • Swelling
  • Dehydration
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Stomach pain

When to See a Dentist

If you’re suffering from pain, even mild pain, or you have any of the signs of a tooth infection, see your dentist as soon as possible. The longer a tooth infection goes untreated, the more painful and complicated the infection will get.

See your dentist if your toothache lasts longer than a day and if you have:

  • Fever
  • Swelling
  • Trouble breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Red gums
  • Pain when chewing or biting
  • A broken tooth or tooth loss

To avoid the risk of tooth infection, follow a good oral hygiene routine, avoid sugary foods, and visit your dentist at the first signs of an oral health problem. A bit of pain, even from a small cavity, can eventually worsen and require emergency dental care if left untreated. So, avoid the risk and don’t ignore the warning signs.