Dental infections more common than other dental emergencies

Caring For Our Kids

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Dental emergencies are common with kids. We often think about getting a tooth knocked out, but the most common dental emergency is actually an infection. Dr. Shannon Cohen from East Tennessee Children’s Hospital shares insights.

Are dental infections something you see often at Children’s Hospital?

Yes, it is the most common dental emergency we see. In some cases a dental infection can be severe enough to require surgery and a hospital stay.

Anyone can get a dental infection, but are kids at greater risk? 

Kids are at greater risk of dental infection because their immune systems are not as mature as adults. Additionally, a poor diet, and poor dental hygiene can damage teeth due to bacteria getting a chance to enter tooth through cracks. That is what leads to infection.


  • Sensitivity and pain. An infected tooth may become sensitive to cold or pressure from chewing and biting, which can cause throbbing or pain.
  • Swollen gums. Healthy gums are pink. If they look red and swollen this is an indication of infection. In severe cases infection can spread causing neck and jaw to become swollen.
  • Darker tooth color. An infected tooth can change color, turning darker compared to healthy teeth.
  • Bad Breath. Occasional bad breath is common. If the problem is persistent, it be a warning sign for tooth infection.
  • Loss of appetite. Pain and sensitivity can cause children to stop eating normally, resulting in weight loss.
  • Fever or sickness. In sever cases of dental infections children may suffer from fever, nausea and diarrhea.

When to take child to the ER

Any dental issue should be seen by your child’s dentist or doctor. However, severe swelling or fever are reasons to come to the ER.

A dental abscess will not go away without proper treatment, and infection can spread to other parts of the body, so take it seriously. Serious dental infections can be prevented with good dental hygiene and regular dental exams to catch problems before they become an emergency.

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