How Long Until a Tooth Infection Kills You: The Facts

How Long Until a Tooth Infection Kills You: The Facts

Did you know that a tooth infection, if left untreated, can lead to life-threatening complications? Understanding this progression and the signs of an advancing infection is crucial, not just for the health of your teeth, but for your overall wellbeing. This is a core philosophy at Strong Jaw, where our mission is to empower individuals with comprehensive dental knowledge to take proactive steps towards ensuring their oral health.

In this blog post, we will explore the timeline of a tooth infection, how to recognize the signs of a spreading infection, the available professional treatments, and prevention methods. We will also discuss high-risk individuals and the impact of tooth infections on their health, as well as answer the question, “How long until a tooth infection kills you?

Short Summary

  • At Strong Jaw, we believe that knowledge is the first line of defense. Tooth infections can escalate from a minor cavity to severe complications, which is why we always emphasize the need for early intervention and professional consultation.
  • Early recognition of facial swelling, fever and chills, difficulty breathing or swallowing are essential for prompt medical attention.
  • Regular dental checkups combined with proper oral hygiene practices and healthy diet & lifestyle can help reduce the risk of tooth decay & infection.

The Timeline of a Tooth Infection

Tooth infections can progress from a simple cavity to life-threatening complications over time, with the timeline varying from months to years. It is important to address a tooth infection as soon as possible, as failing to do so can have severe implications for one’s general wellbeing, including the possibility of the tooth infection spreading to other areas of the body. Immediate treatment for a tooth abscess is crucial to stop the infection from getting worse and creating additional difficulties.

The timeline of a tooth infection consists of several stages, starting with initial cavity formation, progressing to pulp infection, and ultimately leading to abscess development and life-threatening complications. In the following sections, we will delve into each stage of a tooth infection, exploring the factors that contribute to its progression and the risks associated with untreated infections.

Initial Cavity Formation

Cavities form as bacteria damage tooth enamel, taking months or even years to progress into a more serious infection. This stage is known as enamel decay and, if left untreated, can progress to dentin decay, which increases the risk of dental infections.

The treatment for a small cavity in the enamel is a simple filling, which can prevent the progression of an untreated tooth infection.

Progression to Pulp Infection

When a cavity reaches the tooth’s pulp, it can cause severe pain and require a root canal or extraction to prevent further infection. At this stage, one could potentially still have a few months until a tooth infection becomes life-threatening, but maintaining good oral hygiene and seeking dental treatment can help prevent such complications.

Root canal therapy and tooth extraction are the two most common treatments for a severe tooth infection.

Abscess Development

Abscesses develop when bacteria infect the tooth’s root, leading to pus buildup and potential spread of infection to surrounding tissues. A dental abscess is a collection of pus that accumulates around the infected tooth as the infection progresses. An abscess can be easily identified on a dental x-ray as it will appear as a large dark circle at the tip of the root. Detecting an abscess early is key to preventing further damage. Treatment for a dental abscess typically involves draining the pus and removing the infected tooth. Antibiotics may be beneficial.

Life-Threatening Complications

Untreated tooth infections can result in severe consequences, such as the propagation of infection to other areas of the body when the tooth infection spreads, and even mortality. In fact, tooth infection kills when severe dental infections lead to life-threatening conditions like sepsis, Ludwig’s angina, and odontogenic brain abscesses.

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition in which the body is overwhelmed by a bacterial infection. Meanwhile, Ludwig’s angina is a serious infection of the floor of the mouth that can spread to the neck and lead to potentially fatal complications.

The importance of immediate treatment for a tooth infection cannot be overstated. If you experience severe pain, swelling, or other alarming symptoms, it is crucial to seek professional dental care as soon as possible to avoid life-threatening complications.

Recognizing the Signs of a Spreading Tooth Infection

It is vital to recognize the signs of a spreading tooth infection, as they can indicate the need for immediate medical attention. Some of the key signs include facial swelling, fever, chills, and difficulty breathing or swallowing, which may also be associated with a dental infection.

In the following sections, we will discuss each of these symptoms in more detail, highlighting the importance of seeking prompt treatment when they are present.

Facial Swelling

Facial swelling from a tooth infection can spread to the throat and neck, potentially causing airway obstruction. This swelling can be a sign of a severe infection like Ludwig’s angina, which is characterized by severe facial swelling that spreads to the throat and can lead to life-threatening complications.

If you experience facial swelling due to a tooth infection, it is crucial to seek immediate medical attention.

Fever and Chills

Fever - checking temperature in ear of a boy

Fever and chills may indicate a systemic infection, requiring prompt medical intervention. These symptoms can be accompanied by other signs of infection, such as facial swelling, difficulty breathing or swallowing, or other indications of infection.

If you experience fever and chills along with other symptoms of a tooth infection, it is essential to seek timely medical attention when a tooth infection occurs to avoid serious complications.

Difficulty Breathing or Swallowing

Difficulty breathing or swallowing can be a sign of a severe infection, necessitating emergency treatment. If you are unable to swallow at all or have difficulty breathing, it is crucial to seek emergency care.

This may involve going straight to the hospital emergency room or an urgent care center to receive the necessary treatment.

Seeking Professional Treatment

When faced with a tooth infection, it is important to seek professional treatment to prevent complications and ensure the best possible outcome. Antibiotics can be used to treat a tooth infection, depending on how severe it is. Other possible options include root canal therapy or tooth extraction.

In the following sections, we will explore each of these treatment options in more detail.


Antibiotics can help control the bacterial infection, but should be used in conjunction with dental procedures to fully treat the infection. These medications can help manage the infection and may lead to improvement within 24 to 48 hours after administration.

Antibiotics - one hand pointing to a hand that is filled with pills of antibiotics

However, it is important to remember that antibiotics alone may not be sufficient to resolve the infection, and dental procedures such as root canal therapy or tooth extraction may still be necessary.

Root Canal Therapy

Root canal therapy can save an infected tooth by removing the infected pulp and sealing the tooth to prevent further infection. The procedure involves the removal of the infected pulp from the root of a tooth, followed by the restoration of the tooth with a dental filling.

After a root canal procedure, a dental crown is advised to shield the tooth from potential infections.

Tooth Extraction

Tooth extraction may be necessary for severely infected teeth that cannot be saved through other treatments. If the infection is too severe to be repaired, the tooth may need to be extracted to prevent further complications and potential spread of the infection.

Although tooth extraction is a more invasive option, it can be an effective way to resolve a severe tooth infection in the affected tooth and protect your overall health, as a tooth infection kill can be a serious concern.

Preventing Tooth Infections

Preventing tooth infections is a crucial aspect of maintaining good oral health. This involves regular dental checkups, proper oral hygiene practices, and maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle.

In the following sections, we will discuss each of these preventative measures in more detail and offer simple tips to help you avoid tooth infections and maintain optimal oral health.

Regular Dental Checkups

Regular dental checkups are essential for detecting early signs of cavities and infections so that appropriate measures can be taken in a timely manner. These checkups involve a thorough examination of the teeth and gums, and may include x-rays to detect any underlying issues.

If early signs of decay or infection are detected, prompt treatment can be provided, such as antibiotics, root canal therapy, or tooth extraction, as deemed necessary.

Proper Oral Hygiene Practices

Proper oral hygiene practices, such as brushing and flossing daily (especially if eating processed sugar or acidic foods and drinks such carbonated beverages), can help prevent the buildup of bacteria that cause tooth infections.

To practice good oral hygiene, brushing after eating processed sugar should be done for a minimum of two minutes, employing gentle, circular motions that encompass the gumline, and with a toothbrush featuring soft bristles.

Brushing teeth - red toothbrush in front of a smiling mouth with a yellow background

Flossing after eating foods with processed sugar should be done as close to the gum line as possible, and some bleeding may occur if it has been a prolonged period since the last flossing session.

Healthy Diet and Lifestyle

A healthy diet and lifestyle can reduce the risk of tooth decay and infection. This includes consuming a nutritionally rich diet that includes a variety of fruits, tubers, raw dairy (e.g. milk, cheeses, kefir), honey and red meat (from ruminant animals including muscle and organ meats), as well as regular physical activity, adequate hydration, sufficient sleep, and stress management.

Many of our customers who have had similar issues to tooth infections do well supplementing with Tooth Restore to support the teeth and avoid further infections. We specifically formulated Tooth Restore to help provide the essential nutrients required for strong and healthy teeth. Consider this testimonial from functional health experts: "In our combined 85 years of health service experience, we haven't found a supplement that's cleaner or better-sourced than Strong Jaw."

Strong Jaw Tooth Restore Supplement for Healthy Teeth and Strength

Additionally, limiting sugary and acidic foods (such as carbonated beverages) can help reduce the risk of tooth decay and infection. Abstaining from smoking and using tobacco products can also help reduce the risk of tooth decay and infection.

High-Risk Individuals and Tooth Infections

Certain individuals are at a heightened risk for tooth infections, such as those with weakened immune systems, chronic medical conditions, and age-related factors. In the following sections, we will discuss each of these high-risk groups in more detail and explain how their risk factors contribute to an increased likelihood of tooth infections.

Those with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to infections, including tooth infections.

Weakened Immune System

A weakened immune system can impede the body’s ability to combat a tooth infection, thus increasing the likelihood of its spread and the potential for it to become life-threatening. Certain health conditions, medical procedures, and the use of immunosuppressive drugs may have an adverse effect on the immune system.

As a result, individuals with weakened immune systems are more prone to tooth infections and should take extra precautions to maintain good oral health.

Chronic Medical Conditions

Individuals with chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, are more likely to have weakened immune systems, which can make them more prone to tooth infections.

Furthermore, certain medications used to treat chronic medical conditions can cause dry mouth, which can lead to an augmented risk of tooth decay and infection. This is because saliva plays a crucial role in cleaning the mouth and neutralizing harmful acids, and a reduced flow can allow bacteria to thrive and cause harm. 

As such, individuals with chronic medical conditions should be diligent about their oral health and visit their dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings.

Age-Related Factors

Age-related factors, such as reduced saliva production and gum recession, can contribute to an increased risk of tooth infections in older adults. Decreased saliva production may reduce the amount of protective enzymes and minerals in the mouth, making it easier for bacteria to grow and spread.

Additionally, gum recession can expose the root of the tooth, leaving it more vulnerable to infection. Older adults should be particularly attentive to their oral health and take steps to prevent tooth infections.


In conclusion, understanding the timeline, signs, and potential complications of a tooth infection is essential for maintaining good oral health and preventing life-threatening situations. Regular dental checkups, proper oral hygiene practices, and a healthy diet and lifestyle can significantly reduce the risk of tooth infections. By recognizing the signs of a spreading tooth infection and seeking timely professional treatment, you can protect your oral health and overall wellbeing. Prevention, as we say Strong Jaw, is preferable to treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you know if you're dying from a tooth infection?

Death from a tooth infection can occur if left untreated, as it can spread and cause fever, difficulty breathing, or trouble swallowing.

Warning signs of Ludwig’s Angina, a serious infection that can lead to death, include chest pain, troubled breathing, and blocked airways. Seek immediate medical care if experiencing any of these symptoms.

How long can a tooth infection last untreated?

If left untreated, a tooth infection can spread to other tissues in your body within weeks or months and lead to potentially life-threatening complications. It is impossible to know exactly how long that will take, but it could last for several months or years.

What is the mortality rate for tooth infections?

Mortality rate for tooth infections is rare but can still occur, with one study finding a death rate of approximately 1 in 1,000 hospitalizations for abscesses. Without prompt care, it is estimated that death from a tooth infection can increase to 10-40%, as seen before 1908.

How do you know if a tooth infection is spreading?

If you are feeling generally sick, have extreme sensitivity to cold or hot food and drink, have a fever, swelling in your face, trouble breathing or swallowing, or severe toothache radiating outward from the affected tooth, then it is likely that the infection is spreading and you should seek medical help immediately.

It is important to take action quickly if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, as the infection can spread quickly and cause more serious health problems. Seek medical help as soon as possible to ensure that the infection is treated properly.

How long can a tooth infection take to become life-threatening?

Left untreated, a tooth infection can take months to years to become life-threatening.

Back to blog

Have any questions we didn't cover? We'll get back to you in less than 24hrs 👇🏼