Long, long, long before it affects your brain the infection will spread from the area around the roots of your tooth into your jaw bone. The infection in the bone will be far milder in terms of pain than what you are experiencing now, however the infection will spread, rotting your jaw as it goes. When the infection reaches the next live tooth this will also become infected, painful and die and so on. After ~2 years a quite large section of your jaw be will have rotted, be gone and will not grow back. The necrotic regions will be clearly visible on a dental x-ray. The bone infection will also release toxins into your blood continuously and potentially leave you run down and susceptible to ongoing illness and fatigue.
Or if the abscess gets bad enough, it can form a pocket of infection which can pop and infect the brain quickly (septicemia/meningitis) The root of the teeth, especially top teeth are quite close to the brain and infection can easily spread.In fact,the brain is only about three inches from the tooth roots and a dental infection from a tooth abscess can spread to the brain through the veins in the head. It sometimes does happen slowly as the above poster mentioned but it can also happen in a matter of days that infection can spread to the brain causing encephalitis/septicemia. From medical literature:
Symptoms that may indicate that a complication is developing, and where you should seek medical help urgently, are:
If you feel very unwell with a high temperature.
Having difficulty opening your mouth, swallowing or breathing.
Having swelling of the floor of your mouth, face or jaw.
Being in severe pain despite taking painkillers at maximum dose.
Having a spreading infection of your face.
What are the complications of a dental abscess?
In the vast majority of cases, complications only occur if the abscess is left untreated. However, complications can occur, even after seemingly effective treatment, but this is very rare. Possible complications include:
Dental cysts - a fluid-filled cavity may develop at the bottom of the root of the tooth if the abscess is not treated. This is called a dental cyst. There is a significant risk that the cyst will become infected. If this happens the patient will need antibiotics, and possibly surgery.
Osteomyelitis - the bacteria in the abscess gets into the bloodstream and infects the bone. The patient will experience an elevated body temperature, severe pain in the affected bone, and possibly nausea. Typically, the affected bone will be near the site of the abscess; however, as it may have spread into the bloodstream any bone in the body may be affected. Treatment involves either oral or intravenous antibiotics.
Cavernous sinus thrombosis - the spread of bacteria causes a blood clot to form at the cavernous sinus - a large vein at the base of the brain. Cavernous sinus thrombosis is treated with antibiotics, and sometimes surgery to drain the sinus. In some cases the condition can be fatal. This is a very rare complication.
Ludwig's angina - this is an infection of the floor of the mouth when the dental abscess bacteria spread. There is swelling and intense pain under the tongue and in the neck. In severe cases the patient may find it hard to breathe. Ludwig's angina is a potentially fatal condition. Patients are treated with antibiotics. In severe cases a tracheostomy (procedure to open the airway) is performed if there are breathing problems.
Maxillary sinusitis - the bacteria spread into small spaces behind the cheekbones, called the maxillary sinuses. This is not a serious condition, but can be painful, and the patient may develop a fever and have tender cheeks. Sometimes the conditions resolves on its own. Depending on the severity, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics.
It is very painful condition, it can become chronic and can possibly cause fatal brain infection or necrosis (death) of bone of the jaw and face so it is just not smart to let it go! Most dentists will work with you on payment. Even people in the US with dental insurance have poor coverage on things outside preventative care so dentists are quite familiar and used to payment arrangements for more intensive dental work.
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