A staph infection is a bacterial infection caused by Staphylococcus bacteria. Often, these infections are caused by a species of staph called Staphylococcus aureus.

In many cases, a staph infection can be easily treated. But if it spreads to the blood or deeper tissues of the body, it can become life-threatening. Additionally, some strains of staph have become more resistant to antibiotics.

Although rare, it’s possible to have a staph infection in your mouth. Read on below as we explore the symptoms, causes, and treatment of an oral staph infection.

The general symptoms of an oral staph infection can include:

  • redness or swelling inside the mouth
  • painful or burning sensation in the mouth
  • inflammation at one or both corners of the mouth (angular cheilitis)

S. aureus bacteria have also been found in 0.7 to 15 percent of dental abscesses. A dental abscess is a pocket of pus that develops around a tooth due to a bacterial infection. Symptoms can include:

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Although many staph infections can be easily treated, sometimes serious complications can occur.

Bacteremia

In some cases, staph bacteria can spread from the site of infection into the bloodstream. This can lead to a serious condition called bacteremia.

Symptoms of bacteremia can include fever and low blood pressure. Untreated bacteremia can develop into septic shock.

Toxic shock syndrome

Another rare complication is toxic shock syndrome. It’s caused by toxins produced by staph bacteria that have entered the blood. Symptoms can include:

Ludwig’s angina

Ludwig’s angina is a severe infection of the tissues of the bottom of the mouth and neck. It can be a complication of dental infections or abscesses. Symptoms can include:

  • pain in the affected area
  • swelling of the tongue, jaw, or neck
  • difficulty with swallowing or breathing
  • fever
  • weakness or fatigue

Staphylococcus bacteria cause staph infections. These bacteria commonly colonize the skin and nose. In fact, according to the CDC, about 30 percent of people carry staph bacteria inside their nose.

Staph bacteria are also capable of colonizing the mouth. One study found that 94 percent of healthy adults carried some form of Staphylococcus bacteria in their mouth and 24 percent carried S. aureus.

Another study of 5,005 oral specimens from a diagnostic laboratory found that more than 1,000 of them were positive for S. aureus. This means the mouth could be a more significant reservoir for staph bacteria than previously believed.

The bacteria that cause a staph infection are contagious. That means that they can be spread from person to person.

Someone with staph bacteria colonizing their mouth may spread it to other people by coughing or talking. Additionally, you may get it by coming into contact with a contaminated object or surface and touching your face or mouth.

Even if you’re colonized with staph, it doesn’t mean you’ll get sick. Staph bacteria are opportunistic and often only cause infections under specific circumstances, such as the presence of an open wound or an underlying health condition.

Most people colonized with staph don’t get sick. Staph is opportunistic. It typically takes advantage of a specific situation to cause infection.

You may be more likely to get an oral staph infection if you have:

  • an open wound in your mouth
  • had a recent oral procedure or surgery
  • recently stayed in a hospital or other healthcare facility
  • an underlying health condition like cancer or diabetes
  • a compromised immune system
  • a medical device inserted, such as a breathing tube

If you have pain, swelling, or redness in your mouth that worries you, see a doctor. They can help to find out what may be causing your symptoms and determine an appropriate course of treatment.

Many staph infections respond well to antibiotic treatment. If you’re prescribed oral antibiotics, be sure to take them as directed and finish the entire course to prevent a recurrence of your infection.

Some types of staph are resistant to many types of antibiotics. In these cases, you may need stronger antibiotics, some of which may need to be given via IV.

A doctor may perform antibiotic susceptibility testing on a sample from your infection. This can help to better inform them on which types of antibiotics may be most effective.

In some cases, treatment with antibiotics may not be necessary. For example, if you have an abscess, the doctor may choose to make an incision and drain it.

At home, you can take over-the-counter pain medication to help with inflammation and pain, and rinse your mouth with warm salt water.

Complications

In cases where your infection is very severe or has spread, you’ll likely need to be hospitalized. This way, care staff can monitor your treatment and recovery more carefully.

While you are hospitalized, you’ll likely receive fluids and medications by IV. Some infections, such as Ludwig’s angina, may require surgical drainage.

There are a few ways that you can help to prevent getting a staph infection in your mouth:

  • Keep your hands clean. Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water. If this isn’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Practice good oral hygiene. Taking care of your teeth and gums through brushing and flossing can help prevent things like dental abscesses.
  • Visit a dentist for regular teeth cleanings.
  • Don’t share personal items like toothbrushes and eating utensils.

Staph infections are caused by bacteria from the genus Staphylococcus. Although these types of infections are often associated with the skin, in some cases they can occur in the mouth.

Staph is an opportunistic pathogen and many people who have staph in their mouth won’t experience illness. However, some situations like an open wound, recent surgery, or underlying condition can increase your risk of becoming sick.

If you have oral symptoms of a staph infection, see a doctor immediately. It’s important that they evaluate your condition promptly and determine a treatment plan to prevent potential serious complications.