Dental infections are not all the same and there are three basic types:
The first type is an infection inside your tooth, in
the living pulp tissue. This comes from tooth decay
or severe irritation such as trauma. Ordinarily, when bacteria grow in your body, your
body responds by
sending antibodies and white blood cells to fight the bacteria.
Because of this body response, the tissue will swell as it heals. For minor
infections, the antibodies and white blood cells may completely
eliminate them, without the outside help of antibiotics. However, inside
your tooth, this natural defense mechanism breaks down because there is
no room for antibodies and white blood cells.
are of no help here either. Therefore, when your tooth becomes
infected, it will not recover, and the pulp tissue will die. The
treatment for this condition is a root canal treatment, where the necrotic soft tissue inside your tooth is removed and
replaced with a sealer material that keeps infection from seeping back
into the tooth.
There is a second type of tooth infection which occurs in the bone around the end of the root tips. This usually occurs after the first type.
You will get what is called a tooth abscess.
An abscess may or may not be painful. When bacteria are in the bone,
your body can fight them with antibodies and white blood cells. The
problem is that
there is a constant supply of new bacteria to the region from the dead
pulp tissue inside your tooth. Your body may or may not be successful in containing the infected area, so an abscess can go on for years without
hurting. But the risk of
damage is great. The abscess can grow and spread, and it can even cause
the root of your tooth to be
gradually dissolved. Treatment, again, would be a root canal procedure. In some rare cases an existing root canal can fail or become reinfected. Treatment in this case would be either a re-treatment or root canal surgery(apicoectomy).
The third type is a gum infection also known as gingivitis or periodontitis. This occurs in the gum
tissue and/or the bone directly below the gums. Again, your body can fight this. It can also result in an abscess. The treatment for this
is very different and does not require root canal treatment. This type of dental infection requires thoroughly cleaning the root surface, removing tartar and other irritants. There are many grades and types of gum infections and specific treatment regimens depend upon the specifics of the case. A subdivision of this type would be a wisdom tooth infection, which occurs in the surrounding gum and is treated with the extraction of the wisdom tooth.
The vast majority of these infections are avoidable and the best way to steer clear of these conditions is to visit the dentist regularly and follow recommended advice and/or treatments.