dentist working on a rotten tooth

While it is very important to see your dentist regularly for check ups and cleanings, there are many reasons why this isnt always possible for everyone. When routine appointments don’t happen, small problems with simple solutions can be left neglected or unnoticed and progress into larger more complicated issues. Over time, without proper cleanings, teeth can develop significant decay and allow gum disease to take hold. Infections and abscesses can also occur, which left untreated can become serious medical problems. In some cases, these issues can arise even when regular dental visits occur. At Stonegate Dental, we encourage everyone to see their dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings to achieve and maintain the healthiest smile possible. In this article we will explore the signs and symptoms of tooth decay and infections, as well as treatment and prevention.  

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Tooth Decay and Infection? 

Rotten or badly decayed teeth can be painful and embarrassing, especially if they are at the front of your mouth. Tooth decay is a process that occurs over time, and you may not even know it is happening until significant pain or damage is present.  


Cavities are the result of tooth decay, which develops over time. First, dental plaque forms. Dental plaque is the result of poor or improper cleaning of the teeth, as well as the over-consumption of sugary and starchy foods. When teeth aren’t cleaned properly, bacteria begin to feed off the starches and sugars left behind and develop into plaque. The plaque then hardens on the teeth, either above or below the gum line, which then becomes tartar. Tartar is much more difficult to remove, and can act as a shield for the bacteria to continue to grow and spread. Plaque contains acids that erode the hard enamel of the tooth and continue onto the deeper layers of your teeth, eventually developing deep enough to reach the nerves and cause significant pain and swelling. The resulting crevices or deep grooves from the erosion are cavities.  


A dental abscess is the development of a pocket of pus as the result of a bacterial infection. An abscess can appear on different regions of the mouth or tooth, depending on the cause of the infection. A periapical abscess is an abscess that develops in the tip of the root of the tooth. A periodontal abscess occurs in the gum at the side of the tooth root.  

Pain and Swelling 

Severe tooth decay and untreated cavities can result in pain, swelling of the gum around the affected tooth, and broken or damaged teeth. Over time, the pain can progress to the point that it interferes with daily life. In the case of an abscess, a severe and persistent throbbing pain is typically present, as well as sensitivity to hot and cold and the pressure of chewing and biting. Swelling and fever may also be present, as well as swollen or tender lymph nodes near your jaw or neck. In some cases significant nutrition problems and weight loss occur as the result of difficulties with chewing and eating. 

If you suspect you may have a dental abscess, it is important to see your dentist right away. Leaving an infection untreated can lead to serious medical issues, and you don’t want to give the infection a chance to worsen or spread.  

Tooth Loss 

In some severe cases, untreated cavities and tooth decay can lead to tooth loss, which can affect your appearance and self confidence, as well as the position and health of your remaining teeth.  

How are Tooth Decay, Cavities and Abscesses Treated?  

Your dentist will usually diagnose cavities, tooth decay or an abscess by first discussing any possible issues or symptoms that might be present. Then they will conduct a visual examination, followed by a gentle probing of certain areas of your teeth and gums, checking for soft, sensitive or damaged areas. They will also likely take and examine x-rays, which will properly display the extent of the damage and decay under the gumline. They will also reveal whether an infection is present and if so, whether it has spread to other parts of the body.  

When treating cavities and moderate tooth decay, routine cleanings, fluoride treatments and fillings will go a long way toward improving the health of your teeth and mouth. In some cases crowns or root canals may be necessary to preserve and improve the strength and health of the tooth. Unfortunately, sometimes the tooth will be too badly damaged to preserve and must be extracted.  

If an abscess is present, the dentist may need to make a small incision in the affected area and drain the abscess of pus. The area will then be flushed clean with saline solution. A root canal may also be performed in order to save the tooth and eliminate the infection. Finally, your dentist will likely prescribe a course of antibiotics to ensure that the infection is fully resolved.  

What can I do Until I can See my Dentist? 

While it is important to see your dentist right away if you suspect you may have a cavity or infection, there are a few things you can do to achieve some temporary relief until you can.  

– Take over the counter pain and anti inflammatory medication such as Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen.  

– Use warm water and toothpaste for sensitive teeth when you brush.  

– Use an over the counter topical anesthetic specifically designed to relieve tooth pain. 

– Avoid eating foods that may trigger pain such as overly hot or cold foods or sugary foods.  

How can I Prevent Tooth Decay and Dental Abscesses?  

The best prevention for tooth decay is the daily practice of excellent oral and dental hygiene. This includes brushing twice daily for at least two minutes, flossing daily and seeing your dentist every six months for routine checkups and cleanings.  

If you are at a higher risk of developing cavities, your dentist may recommend that you use a mouth rinse with fluoride. Drinking tap water is also beneficial as tap water has added fluoride which helps strengthen and maintain tooth enamel. Bottled water does not contain fluoride.  

Eating tooth-healthy foods can also go a long way towards preventing potential issues. Foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables help to increase saliva production, which in turn helps to wash away food particles and keep teeth clean.  

Many people experience shame or anxiety about returning to their dentist after longer periods between regular visits. It is always important to remember, it is not the job of any dentist to judge or shame their patients. Their job is only to attend to your wellbeing and the health of your teeth and gums. If you have questions about the health of your teeth and mouth and how we can help, please contact our Guelph Dentists office today! Our dedicated team of Dentists and staff can’t wait to help you on your journey to the best and healthiest smile of your life! 

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