Management of Dental Infections

Tooth related infections are the most common infections of the head and neck. Although most of these infections can be successfully managed with minimal complications, some can become quite serious. One of the keys to successful management and accelerated recovery is prompt evaluation and appropriate antibiotic and surgical therapy.

The use of antibiotics has had a profound influence on the treatment of dental infections not only by aiding the body’s own defenses, but also by permitting earlier surgical intervention. Early extraction of the offending tooth and drainage of an associated abscess will shorten the natural course of the infection, and minimize the chances for development of further complications.

Whether a silent infection will remain localized at the end of a tooth root, or spread through the surrounding tissues and result in facial swelling, depends primarily on the balance between the patient’s resistance to infection and the quantity and virulence (aggressiveness) of the bacteria. When a person’s resistance is low (e.g. in a poorly controlled diabetic) rapid bacterial multiplication and spread can result even with a few organisms of relatively low virulence.

Proper management of dental infections depends upon the comfort level of the patient, as well as the nature of the swelling. In some cases antibiotics will be sufficient to provide relief and reduce swelling in preparation for definitive treatment (e.g. extraction, root canal therapy, apicoectomy). Occasionally, a drainage procedure will be required as a preliminary procedure due to antibiotic resistance and/or the size of the swelling.

Remember that one of the keys to an accelerated recovery is prompt evaluation and treatment. The larger the swelling related to an infection becomes, the longer it will take to resolve even with aggressive treatment.