Beauty, Dental Health

How Long Until A Tooth Infection Kills You? The Shocking Truth Revealed!

A tooth infection might seem like a minor issue at first, but ignoring it can have severe and potentially life-threatening consequences. While modern dentistry has ...

by Jason Wesley

How Long Until A Tooth Infection Kills You? The Shocking Truth Revealed!

A tooth infection might seem like a minor issue at first, but ignoring it can have severe and potentially life-threatening consequences. While modern dentistry has significantly reduced deaths from tooth infections, an untreated dental abscess can still become a medical emergency if the infection spreads to other parts of the body.

So, how long do you have until an untreated tooth infection becomes deadly? The answer depends on several factors, but the condition can turn fatal within days or weeks if left unchecked.

What Is A Tooth Infection?

Can A Tooth Infection Kill You

A tooth infection, also known as a dental abscess, occurs when bacteria infiltrate the inner layers of a tooth, typically due to untreated tooth decay, gum disease, or trauma. As the infection progresses, it can cause a buildup of pus within the tooth (periapical abscess) or the surrounding gum tissue (periodontal abscess). This pocket of infection can lead to intense pain, swelling, fever, and other unpleasant symptoms.

While not all tooth infections are immediately life-threatening, they should never be taken lightly. In the pre-antibiotic era, tooth infections were a leading cause of death, accounting for 10-40% of fatalities in some cases. Even today, with advanced medical and dental care, an untreated tooth infection can still be deadly if the bacteria spread to other vital organs.

The Stages Of A Tooth Infection

A tooth infection, also known as a dental abscess, is a serious condition that can lead to severe pain, swelling, and even tooth loss if left untreated. The stages of a tooth infection can vary depending on the severity of the infection and the individual’s overall health. Here are the common stages of a tooth infection:

Stage 1: Enamel Decay

In this stage, the bacteria in the mouth begin to break down the enamel of the tooth, causing decay. This stage may not always produce symptoms, but you may experience increased tooth sensitivity or white spots on the surface of the teeth.

Stage 2: Dentin Decay

If the enamel decay is left untreated, the bacteria continue to spread to the dentin, the layer beneath the enamel. This stage may cause more noticeable symptoms, such as pain, sensitivity, and swelling around the affected tooth.

Stage 3: Pulp Involvement

When the bacteria reach the pulp, the innermost layer of the tooth, it can cause significant pain and discomfort. The pulp contains nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue, and when it becomes infected, it can lead to a range of symptoms, including:

  • Severe toothache
  • Swelling and redness around the affected tooth
  • Pus formation
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Stage 4: Abscess Formation

If the infection is left untreated, it can progress to an abscess, a pocket of pus that forms at the tip of the tooth root. This stage is characterized by:

  • A painful, swollen bump on the gum near the affected tooth
  • A foul-tasting or smelling discharge from the abscess
  • Increased pain and sensitivity
  • Swelling and redness around the affected tooth

Stage 5: Tooth Loss

If the infection is left untreated, it can lead to tooth loss. The abscess can spread to the surrounding tissues, causing significant damage and potentially leading to:

  • Tooth extraction
  • Bone loss
  • Gum disease
  • Spread of the infection to other parts of the mouth

Can A Tooth Infection Kill You?

Yes, a tooth infection can potentially be life-threatening if left untreated. An untreated tooth infection can spread to other parts of the body, leading to serious complications such as sepsis, Ludwig’s angina, necrotizing fasciitis, mediastinitis, endocarditis, cavernous sinus thrombosis, and brain abscess. In rare cases, a tooth infection can even cause death.

The infection can spread through the bloodstream, reaching vital organs such as the heart, lungs, and brain, causing damage and potentially life-threatening consequences. According to historical records, dental infections were a leading cause of death in the past, with mortality rates ranging from 10 to 40%.

While modern medicine has significantly reduced the risk of death from tooth infections, it is still essential to seek prompt medical attention if you experience symptoms such as tooth sensitivity, pain, swelling, or difficulty breathing, as timely treatment can prevent serious complications and potentially life-threatening outcomes.

How Does A Tooth Infection Become Life-Threatening?

A tooth infection can become life-threatening when the bacteria responsible for the infection enter the bloodstream (sepsis) or spread to other parts of the body, such as the brain, heart, or lungs. This can lead to several potentially fatal complications, including:

  1. Sepsis: A severe, whole-body inflammatory response to the infection, which can lead to organ failure and death if not treated promptly.
  2. Necrotizing Fasciitis: A rare but life-threatening infection that causes tissue death and can rapidly spread throughout the body.
  3. Ludwig’s Angina: A potentially deadly condition where the infection spreads to the floor of the mouth, causing severe swelling that can obstruct breathing.
  4. Brain Abscess: The infection can reach the brain and form a pocket of pus, leading to brain damage or death.
  5. Endocarditis: A heart valve infection that can cause heart failure if left untreated.
  6. Mediastinitis: Inflammation between the lungs due to the spreading of infection, which can impair breathing.
  7. Osteomyelitis: A bone infection that can spread to other body parts if not treated effectively.
  8. Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis: A blood clot forms in the sinuses near the brain, leading to potential complications like vision loss or stroke.

While these complications may seem extreme, they highlight the importance of seeking prompt dental treatment for any suspected tooth infection. Delaying treatment allows the infection to progress and potentially spread to other areas of the body, increasing the risk of severe, life-threatening consequences.

Risk Factors For Complications

While anyone with an untreated tooth infection is at risk of developing complications, certain factors can increase the likelihood and severity of these issues:

Age: Older adults are more susceptible to developing severe complications from tooth infections due to weakened immune systems and other underlying health conditions.

Diabetes: People with diabetes are at a higher risk of tooth infections and related complications due to impaired immune function and circulation issues.

Immunocompromised State: Individuals with weakened immune systems, such as those undergoing cancer treatment or with autoimmune disorders, are more vulnerable to severe infections.

Malnutrition: Poor nutrition can weaken the body’s ability to fight off infections, increasing the risk of complications.

How Long Does It Take For A Tooth Infection To Become Deadly?

The timeline for a tooth infection to become life-threatening can vary depending on several factors, including the severity of the infection, the individual’s overall health, and whether the infection has spread beyond the initial site.

In general, it can take several months for a tooth abscess to develop and progress to the point where it becomes a serious health concern. During this time, the infection may cause intense pain, swelling, and other localized symptoms. However, if left untreated, the infection can begin to spread to other parts of the body within a matter of weeks or even days.

Once the infection enters the bloodstream or reaches vital organs like the brain or heart, the complications can become rapidly life-threatening. In some cases, individuals with severe infections have succumbed to conditions like sepsis or brain abscesses within days or weeks of symptom onset.

It’s important to note that the timeline for a tooth infection to become deadly can be accelerated in individuals with compromised immune systems or underlying health conditions. In these cases, the infection may progress more rapidly, and complications can develop within a shorter timeframe.

Signs That A Tooth Infection Has Spread

If you suspect that a tooth infection has spread beyond its initial site, it’s crucial to seek immediate medical attention. Some signs that a tooth infection has become systemic include:

  • High fever (over 101°F or 38.3°C)
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Swelling in the face, neck, or jaw
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Severe, persistent headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Extreme fatigue or weakness

These symptoms can indicate that the infection has spread to other parts of the body and may be causing potentially life-threatening complications.

Treating A Tooth Infection

The key to preventing a tooth infection from becoming life-threatening is seeking prompt dental treatment at the first signs of an abscess. Depending on the severity of the infection, treatment may involve:

Antibiotics: To help control the bacterial infection and prevent its spread.

Drainage: Opening the abscess and draining the pus to relieve pressure and allow healing.

Root Canal Treatment: Removing the infected pulp and sealing the tooth to prevent further infection.

Tooth Extraction: In severe cases where the tooth cannot be saved, extraction may be necessary to eliminate the source of infection.

In cases where the infection has already spread, additional medical treatment may be required, such as intravenous antibiotics, hospitalization, or surgical intervention to address complications like brain abscesses or sepsis.

Prevention Is Key

While modern medicine can effectively treat most tooth infections, preventing the infection from occurring in the first place is the best approach. Practicing good oral hygiene, including regular brushing, flossing, and dental checkups, can help catch and address issues like tooth decay or gum disease before they progress to an infection.


A tooth infection may seem like a minor inconvenience, but ignoring it can have severe and potentially deadly consequences. While it can take several months for an untreated tooth abscess to develop, once the infection spreads beyond the initial site, it can become life-threatening within a matter of weeks or even days.

Seeking prompt dental treatment at the first signs of a tooth infection is crucial to preventing the spread of the infection and avoiding potentially fatal complications. By understanding the risks and recognizing the signs of a spreading infection, you can take the necessary steps to protect your overall health and well-being.


  • Jason Wesley

    Jason Wesley, DDS, is a highly skilled dentist specializing in cosmetic dentistry, renowned for his commitment to excellence and patient-centered care. With years of experience in the field, he is deeply committed to helping individuals achieve their dream smiles through personalized treatment plans tailored to their unique needs.

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