When most people think of an infection, they think of being sick. Unfortunately, many people do not include mouth infections in their idea of being sick. The reasons for this are many.
- Some people mistakenly assume that the mouth is separate from the rest of the body because it requires the care of a dentist instead of a medical doctor. Therefore, they think that problems in your mouth do not make you “sick”.
- For others, it is simply the lack of the understanding that many dental problems actually are serious infections.
- There are some people who believe that if nothing hurts, then nothing is wrong.
All of these misconceptions are dangerous because they cause people to overlook serious infectious diseases in the mouth.
What is an Infection?
An infection is the invasion of the human body by disease-causing microorganisms (including bacteria, viruses, and fungi among others). These organisms multiply and produce toxins, which cause the body to respond with inflammation.
Like the gastrointestinal tract and the skin, the mouth is always full of microorganisms, and most of them are not bad. Many bacteria are actually good for the body. The term infection does not include these good organisms. Infections involve bad bacteria that cause disease and destruction of the body’s tissues. The most common infections in the mouth are caused by a wide variety of bacteria. Fungal infections can often occur on the tongue, roof of the mouth, and corners of the lips.
What Dental Problems are Actually Infections?
Most dental problems are actually infectious diseases. There are a few that can occur in the absence of bad microorganisms, like cracked teeth or TMJ problems. The vast majority, though, are the result of an overgrowth of the wrong kinds of organisms in the mouth.
There are multiple types of bacteria associated with cavities, and the most common is Streptococcus mutans. This bacteria adheres to the tooth in dental plaque (which is why brushing and flossing helps prevent cavities). This bacteria ingests carbohydrates and produces a strong acid as the by-product.
Because these bacteria stick to the teeth, the acid comes into direct contact with the tooth and begins to soften and weaken the enamel. Without intervention, the bacteria continue to multiply, producing more and more acid, which dissolves tooth structure. As the process continues, the bacteria literally eats its way through a tooth, leaving a hole (or “cavity”) in its wake. Unchecked cavities destroy the tooth itself.
Cavities become very dangerous when the bacteria reach the nerve and blood vessels in the hollow center of the tooth. As they continue to multiply and spread, a large abscess can form. In the most dangerous scenarios, the infection spreads into the airway, bloodstream or brain, causing death.
Gum disease, which includes gingivitis and periodontal disease, is the body’s response to an infection of toxic bacteria in the gums. As the bacteria collect in various crevices around the teeth, they produce toxins that destroy gum tissue and jawbone. Once started, this process is impossible to stop without intervention by a dentist.
Gum disease does spread to nearby teeth and can develop abscesses, just like cavities can. Unchecked gum disease destroys the foundation of the teeth, so even healthy teeth can simply fall out.
Candida Fungal Infections (Thrush)
Fungal infections are slightly less common than bacterial infections in the mouth. They often occur on the roof of the mouth underneath a denture or partial. Thrush commonly develops on the tongue in a person with a severely dry mouth or compromised immune system. You can also experience an overgrowth of fungus in the corners of the mouth, called angular cheilitis.
Fungal infections cause a whitish buildup in the affected area and can be uncomfortable, if not outright painful. This type of infection commonly affects the very young, the very old, and the very sick.
What Symptoms Indicate the Presence of a Mouth Infection?
The problem with dental problems is that they often occur without causing any symptoms in their early stages. We always want to stress the importance of consistent dental evaluations so that you prevent any infections or catch them in the earliest stages.
A toothache or pain in your gums is a bad sign. Because of the prevalence of cavities and gum disease, it is safe to assume that pain in your mouth is a symptom of an infection. This is especially true for people who have not seen a dentist in over a year.
Any swelling in the gums is a red flag for infection. If it is a small pimple-like swelling on the gums, you likely have an abscess from a tooth. Swelling around multiple teeth where the gums meet the teeth is a sign of inflammatory gum disease.
Any swelling that affects the head or neck and is visible from outside the mouth is extremely dangerous. Treat any such swelling as an emergency and seek urgent care!
Healthy gums do not bleed. Only the presence of inflammation causes bleeding of the gums, especially during normal oral hygiene like brushing and flossing. The inflammation, which includes redness, swelling and tenderness, is the body’s natural response to toxins produced by the bacteria in dental plaque.
Bad breath is the result of stinky gases produced by bacteria in the mouth. Often these bacteria hide in the grooves and tiny crevices on the tongue or between the teeth. The more bacteria present, the worse your breath will be.
Receding Gums and/or Loose Teeth
As gum disease progresses, the destruction of gum tissue and bone by bacterial toxins causes the gums to back away down the roots of the teeth. This is often visible as receding gums, making the teeth appear longer. As the gums and bone recede, you lose vital support for the teeth, and they may become loose.
When teeth become loose without any injury, it indicates a serious gum infection called periodontal disease or periodontitis. Chronic periodontal disease increases your risk for heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. This is not something to ignore!
A Persistent White Coating
A fuzzy or sticky white coating that persists for several days, even with good oral hygiene, may indicate a fungal infection. The fungus Candida albicans is an opportunistic fungus that will reproduce rapidly whenever it can.
Do not attempt to scrape or scratch away any white coating that does not rinse off with a vigorous warm salt water swishing. Simply perform your normal oral hygiene routine and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Then see your dentist or medical doctor for evaluation and prescription of an anti-fungal medication.
Concerned about Mouth Infections?
Call your nearest Premier Dental of Ohio location today to schedule a consultation with our doctors. We can diagnose and recommend treatment for any infection you may have. It is our privilege to care for you!