Tooth infections, also known as an abscess, can cause facial swelling. This is a common sign that your body is fighting off an infection. While it’s important to take the necessary precautions and see a dentist for treatment, understanding the causes and symptoms of facial swelling from a tooth infection can help you better prepare for the next steps in your treatment.
Causes of Facial Swelling from Tooth Infection
Facial swelling from a tooth infection can be caused by bacteria entering through an untreated cavity or cracked tooth. It’s important to note that not all tooth infections result in facial swelling, but if the bacteria enters deep into the tissue, it may cause more severe symptoms. Once the bacteria has spread beyond the tooth and gum line, it can reach other areas of your face and create inflammation that leads to facial swelling.
Signs of an Infected Tooth
The most obvious symptom of an infected tooth is pain that may come and go but typically gets worse over time. Other signs include sensitivity to hot and cold foods, difficulty chewing, bad breath, discolored teeth, swollen gums around the affected area, and fever. In some cases, the infection can spread beyond the mouth, causing facial swelling on one side of the face.
Symptoms of Facial Swelling From Tooth Infection
Common signs of facial swelling from a tooth infection include redness, pain, and tenderness around the infected area, fever, swollen lymph nodes under your jaw or neckline, nausea and vomiting, headaches, and difficulty opening your mouth due to jaw stiffness. If left untreated, these symptoms may worsen over time and lead to more serious health problems such as sepsis or meningitis. As soon as you notice any of these signs or symptoms, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately so that you can get proper treatment before complications arise.
Swelling from a Tooth Abscess
A dental abscess is an infection at the base of a tooth. It means a pocket of fluid (pus) has formed at the tip of a tooth root in your jawbone. If the infection isn’t treated, more serious infections may spread to the face (facial cellulitis). This makes your face swell. Facial cellulitis is an infection of the skin and underlying soft tissues. This is a very serious condition. Once the infection and swelling start, they can spread quickly.
A dental abscess often starts with a crack or cavity in a tooth. The pain is often made worse by having hot or cold drinks or biting on hard foods. The pain may spread from the tooth to your ear or the area of your jaw on the same side.
Follow these tips when caring for yourself at home:
- Don’t have hot and cold foods and drinks. Your tooth may be sensitive to changes in temperature. Don’t chew on the side of the infected tooth.
- If your tooth is chipped or cracked, or if there is a large open cavity, put clove oil right on the tooth to ease the pain. You can buy clove oil at pharmacies. Some pharmacies carry an over-the-counter toothache kit. This has a paste that you can put on the exposed tooth to make it less sensitive.
- Put a cold pack on your jaw over the sore area. This can help reduce pain.
- You may use an over-the-counter medicine to ease pain unless another medicine is prescribed. Talk with your provider before using acetaminophen or ibuprofen if you have chronic liver or kidney disease. Also, talk with your provider if you’ve had a stomach ulcer or GI (gastrointestinal) bleeding.
- An antibiotic will be prescribed. Take it exactly as directed. Don’t miss any doses.
These factors may increase your risk of a tooth abscess:
- Poor dental habits and care. Not taking proper care of your teeth and gums — such as not brushing your teeth twice a day and not flossing — can increase your risk of dental problems. Problems may include tooth decay, gum disease, tooth abscess, and other dental and mouth complications.
- A diet high in sugar. Frequently eating and drinking foods rich in sugar, such as sweets and sodas, can contribute to dental cavities and turn into tooth abscesses.
- Dry mouth. Having a dry mouth can increase your risk of tooth decay. A dry mouth is often due to the side effect of certain medications or issues related to aging.
A tooth abscess won’t go away without treatment. If the abscess ruptures, the pain may improve a lot, making you think that the problem has gone away — but you still need to get dental treatment.
If the abscess doesn’t drain, the infection may spread to your jaw and to other areas of your head and neck. If the tooth is located near the maxillary sinus ⸺ two large spaces under your eyes and behind your cheeks ⸺ you can also develop an opening between the tooth abscess and the sinus. This can cause an infection in the sinus cavity. You might even develop sepsis — a life-threatening infection that spreads throughout your body.
If you have a weakened immune system and you leave a tooth abscess untreated, your risk of a spreading infection increases even more.
Avoiding tooth decay is essential to preventing a tooth abscess. Take good care of your teeth to avoid tooth decay:
- Drink water that contains fluoride.
- Brush your teeth for two minutes at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
- Use dental floss or a water flosser to clean your teeth on a daily basis.
- Replace your toothbrush every 3 to 4 months or whenever the bristles are frayed.
- Eat healthy food, limiting sugary items and between-meal snacks.
- Visit your dentist regularly for checkups and professional cleanings.
- Consider using an antiseptic or a fluoride mouth rinse to add an extra layer of protection against tooth decay.
Follow up with your dentist or an oral surgeon, as advised. Severe cases of cellulitis must be checked again in 24 hours. Once a tooth infection occurs, it will be a problem until the infection is drained. This is done through surgery or a root canal. Or you may need to have your tooth pulled.
Call 911 if any of these occur:
- Swelling spreads to the upper half of your face or neck
- Your eyelids start to swell shut
- Abnormal drowsiness
- Headache or a stiff neck
- Weakness or fainting
- Trouble swallowing or breathing
When to get Medical Advice
Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:
- Pain gets worse or spreads to your neck
- Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your provider
Facial swelling from a tooth infection is not something to take lightly; if left untreated, it could lead to serious complications such as sepsis or meningitis. Thankfully, with proper dental care and prompt medical attention, you can usually treat this type of infection before any further damage is done. If you are experiencing any of the signs or symptoms outlined here, then make sure to visit your dentist right away so they can diagnose and treat any underlying issues as quickly as possible!