Jawbone osteomyelitis is the medical term for an infection of the jawbone. This serious condition is often the result of untreated tooth decay which has progressed into a dental abscess and then spread to the jaw. Here's what you need to know about this life threatening infection.
How does tooth decay lead to a jawbone infection?
Tooth decay is a common problem, but that doesn't mean that it's not a serious one. Bacteria from your food eats through the enamel, the outer layer of your tooth, causing cavities. These can be easily filled by your dentist at this stage, but if you don't see your dentist, the cavity will get worse. Eventually, the hole will reach right into the inner part of your tooth, the pulp. When bacteria travels through your cavity and into the pulp, the pulp gets infected, which gives you a serious toothache!
At this stage, you need a root canal to remove the infected pulp. If you're like many people and are scared of the dentist, you'll ignore the toothache and hope it goes away by itself. Unfortunately, it won't go away by itself. The infection will spread, and a pocket of pus will form underneath your tooth. This is an abscess, and it's dangerously close to your jawbone. If you don't seek emergency treatment from someone like Abigail Rollins, DMD, PC for your abscess, you could develop jawbone osteomyelitis, a jawbone infection.
How do you know you have a jawbone infection?
A jawbone infection is very painful. This pain will be worse than the abscess-related tooth pain that you were trying to ignore; you will feel the pain coming from deep inside your jaw, not just in one tooth. Fever is a common symptom, and you may feel vaguely ill throughout your whole body. The side of your face may swell due to the infection, and the skin on your cheek may be red.
Can a jawbone infection be treated?
Jawbone infections can be treated in a few different ways. Antibiotics are given to treat the infection. Since the infection is very serious, you will usually be given the antibiotics intravenously, not in the pill form that you are probably used to. You will need these antibiotics for as long as 6 weeks.
Some people will only need antibiotic treatment to feel better, but others will need surgery, as well. A common surgical procedure is draining. If you need this procedure, surgeons will make incisions around your jawbone to let the pus from the infection drain out.
The surgeon may also need to remove parts of your jawbone in a procedure called debridement. Infected, damaged, or dead portions of your bone will be removed so that your healthy bone tissue can survive. Once you're feeling better, this bone will need to be replaced with bone grafts. These grafts are taken from other parts of your body, or even from donors, and then implanted along your jawbone.
What happens if you don't seek treatment?
Tooth decay turns into an abscess, an abscess turns into a jawbone infection, but what does a jawbone infection turn into? If you don't seek treatment, the next step could be death, which is much scarier than a trip to the dentist. If you think you might have a jawbone infection, you need to call your dentist right now.
Jawbone osteomyelitis is a scary and life threatening infection, but it is both preventable and treatable. If you have a toothache or an abscess, make sure to see your dentist right away before it can get any worse. If you had a toothache but now have a sore jaw, you may already have jawbone osteomyelitis and need to see your dentist right away.