Is it safe to pull a tooth when it’s infected?

My son is getting 2 teeth pulled tomorrow. He has been on antibiotics for 3 days, but there is still some swelling in his jaw. Is it safe to have them removed?
- Jessica from West Virginia

I can’t comment on your son’s particular case without seeing it, but I can give you some general guidelines. And the main principle you need to know is that you can never get rid of an infection from an infected tooth without treating the tooth—either a root canal treatment or extracting the tooth. Antibiotics can’t get to the inside of a tooth.

Sometimes, because of the position of a tooth, an infection will get in the way of getting a tooth numb, and in those cases we’ll want to get the infection under control before extracting the tooth. Other times, when there is a surgical extraction, we’ll also want to get the infection under control because there is a chance that the surgery could spread the infection. Many times, no antibiotic at all is needed. But even when an antibiotic is used, the goal is to get the infection under control to where it isn’t spreading any more and we know that the antibiotic is working. We don’t need the infection gone—in fact, it isn’t possible to get the infection eliminated until the tooth is treated.

I hope this is helpful.