A tooth abscess is a pocket of infected material resulting from an infection in the center of the tooth. Tooth decay is often the main culprit of a tooth abscess. Tooth decay causes openings in tooth enamel, allowing harmful bacteria, dead tissue and white blood cells, often referred to as pus, to enter the center of the tooth. Antibiotics often are enough to destroy the bacteria and allow the abscess to heal. However, occasionally, an abscess can lead to a blood infection known as sepsis.
An untreated abscess, like any wound, can become worse without treatment. The infection will often continue to grow until the bacteria enters the bloodstream. Once the bacterium enters the bloodstream, it can infect the entire body.
Early signs of sepsis may seem like the flu or dehydration. People will often experience abnormal changes in temperature such as a fever above 101.3 degrees Fahrenheit or below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, according to MayoClinic.com. A person may feel that his heart is racing and exhibit rapid shallow breathing. When sepsis becomes severe, a person often experiences decreased urinary output, abrupt changes in mental status, decreased platelet count, and difficulty breathing.
If a tooth abscess progresses to a systemic infection, it can impair blood flow to the major organs such as the heart, brain and kidneys. The National Institutes of Health warns that sepsis can cause a complication called disseminated intravascular coagulation, or DIC, which leads to the formation of blood clots in the organs. This can cause stroke, heart attack and even death.
Preventing a tooth abscess from progressing into a full on blood infection, people with an abscess should see a dentist immediately. Dentists will prescribe antibiotics and over-the-counter pain relievers. In some cases, a dentist may prescribe a prescription pain reliever if the infection is severe. Warm salt-water rinses may also help with pain. A dentist may recommend a root canal if the person wishes to keep the tooth. A severe tooth abscess can often require surgical drainage of the abscess and removal of the infected tooth.
A systemic blood infection requires prompt treatment to prevent complications. People with sepsis are commonly treated in the intensive care unit, or ICU, of the hospital and started on intravenous broad spectrum antibiotics, according to The National Institutes of Health.
A broad spectrum antibiotic treats a wide variety of bacteria. Physicians use these antibiotics so that a person can receive immediate treatment while the lab runs blood tests to determine the specific bacteria causing the infection. These tests can take up to three days for results. After the laboratory determines the specific bacteria, physicians will give intravenous antibiotics that to specifically target the exact bacteria. Physicians may also include oxygen, fluids and medications to increase blood pressure in a patient's treatment.