Can A Tooth Ache Be Life-Threatening?
How does it get to that point? The harsh truth - neglect. That word doesn't make us very popular, but ultimately that's exactly what it is. We do realize that there are a million reasons why people don't visit their dentist regularly: no insurance, no money, afraid, etc. However, most people budget for things that are important to them: oil changes, hair & nail appointments, entertainment, etc (though there are many extenuating circumstances that don't fall into these categories and dental care can be very difficult to come by). Many practices now offer in-house memberships and payment arrangements (we do both), making it much more affordable to get the care they need.
What happens? For example, a patient breaks a tooth and lives with it broken for months. It's not causing them any pain so they go on business as usual. With sensitive portions of the tooth exposed, bacteria works its way into the surrounding gum and those broken parts of the tooth. Eventually, an infection takes hold and begins to spread. Once the infection gets to the jaw bone, it begins to eat away at the bone. The infection can cause swelling which can close off the airway in a matter of hours. The infection can continue to spread through the body and into the blood (heart or brain are only a few inches away) making regular oral antibiotics insufficient. IV antibiotics may be the only solution at this point.
Just this week I read on Facebook a mother who posted an update on her son who had been hospitalized for an infection that stemmed from a cracked tooth. The son waited to seek treatment (for whatever reason, was not stated) until the pain was unbearable. They had to do a tracheotomy due to swelling that cut off his air supply. His survival was rated at 15% because the infection had traveled to his blood. Thankfully he is young and will make a full recovery, some are not that fortunate.
Some time ago we saw a patient who had been having a tooth ache for months but had been putting off seeing the dentist. When this person came to the office the patient was experiencing some swelling, nothing excessive however. We extracted the tooth and put the patient on antibiotics. A week later the patient began experiencing severe swelling. Though the patient had taken the full supply of oral antibiotics, the infection remained and the swelling started to cut off his airway. It was over a weekend so the patient went to the local emergency room. They life lighted the patient to OHSU where the patient received emergency surgery and underwent a rigorous antibiotic regiment with a several day stay.
It is absolutely critical for patients to do everything they can to address dental issues as quickly as possible. Regular dental visits help to prevent situations such as the above stories. If you cannot afford regular dental care, check the local dental school or possibly a local dental van. Don't put it off, if can cost you more than the extraction cost, it could cost you your life.
It will never cost less or hurt less than it does today!