Low prices. Quality service. Every day since 1945.

My Account
shopping cart0
Safco Logo
Free shipping on orders over $250

Difference between Inflammation & Infection

Let’s breakdown the difference between inflammation vs. infection. 

Inflammation vs. Infection: What’s the Difference?

It’s not uncommon for the terms “infection” and “inflammation” to be used interchangeably. It is important to keep in mind that they are two very different things. – especially when it comes to oral health.

What is the difference between infection and inflammation? Infection is a direct catalyst of inflammation – the two conditions are not synonymous. Read on to learn more about the difference between inflammation and infection.

What is Infection?

What exactly is an infection? Let’s break down the basics.

Infection occurs when a pathogen enters the body, begins to grow, and causes harm to the body as a whole. Pathogens are microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, or a virus.

Infection control in a clinical dental setting is imperative. Proper precautions can be carried out by using dental infection control products.

Types of Infection

Knowing what causes an infection is an important part of keeping yourself protected. Different pathogens cause different types of infections.


Viral infections (also known as viruses) invade the body of the host and multiply. This type of infection is spread through contact with another infected person. Examples of viral infections include the common cold, COVID-19, HIV, and Influenza. Viruses do not respond to antibiotics; in most cases, the body must clear the infection on its own. Antiviral medications are useful for treating symptoms. Vaccines may be used to prevent viruses.


 Bacteria are single-celled organisms that naturally live within the body.  This “good” bacteria help the body fight infections caused by “bad” bacteria. Bad bacteria is introduced to the body by touching contaminated surfaces

Examples of bacterial infections include pneumonia, bacterial meningitis, tuberculosis, and food poisoning.

Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections. This type of infection can be prevented by washing your hands. It is also advisable to avoid contact with sick individuals. In a clinical setting, you can avoid bacterial infections by using PPE such as gloves or masks.


Fungal infections occur when a fungus (a multicellular parasite) causes a superficial infection. Fungal infections usually affect the skin, nails, mouth, or hair.

Fungal infections are spread by coming into direct contact with a contaminated surface. They may also be spread by sharing toothbrushes, cups, utensils, socks, shoes, or helmets.

Examples of fungal infections include ringworm, athlete’s foot, and thrush.

You can prevent fungal infections by:

    • Avoiding sharing apparel
    • Avoiding communal showers
    • Washing your hands
    • Using your own cups and utensils
    • Cleaning your home

Fungal infections are typically treated with an anti-fungal treatment.

In a clinical setting, using disinfecting wipes helps promote a healthy environment.


A prion is a protein. When abnormally folded, prions can trigger rare infections in the brain. An example of prion disease is “Mad Cow Disease”. Prions have also been linked to Alzheimer’s Disease.

The actual function of unfolded prions is yet unknown. It is, however, known that folded prion proteins typically lead to brain damage. While extremely rare, prion diseases are rapid and fatal.

Prion diseases can be transmitted through infected animal products. They can also spread through blood, saliva, feces, or urine. Using infection control products helps promote a clean environment. PPE like face shields, masks, and gloves help keep you protected while you work.

Chronic vs. Acute Infections

Infections can be further separated into two classifications: chronic and acute.

When an infection is chronic, it is persistent throughout an individual’s lifetime. In some cases, chronic diseases may take months, years, or even decades to fully develop.

Acute infections develop suddenly and rapidly. Unlike chronic infections, acute infections are not recurring. In most cases, they can be resolved with the correct short-term urgent care.

Symptoms of Infection

It is important to be able to positively identify an infection in the body. The symptoms are dependent on the type of infection, but there are some basic signs to watch for.

5 signs of infection include:

  • Fever
  • Chills and sweating
  • Redness or inflammation
  • Pus/discharge
  • Nausea, vomiting, and fatigue

Types of Dental Infections

Dental infections are serious and should be treated as soon as possible.

Below are some common types of dental infections:

  • Thrush: A fungal infection that typically produces thick white lesions. Lesions can be found on the tongue, cheeks, tonsils, roof of the mouth, and gums.
  • Tooth Abscess: A bacterial infection that causes a pocket of pus to develop at the tip of the tooth’s root (apex).
  • Gingivitis: A bacterial infection of the gum tissues.
  • Periodontitis: When Gingivitis is not properly treated, it develops into Periodontitis. This is a serious and advanced bacterial infection of both the gum and bone.
  • Tonsillitis: An infection that causes significant swelling in the tonsils. Tonsillitis can be viral or bacterial.
  • Hand/Foot/Mouth Disease: A viral infection that produces blisters. Blisters are typically found around the mouth, on the feet, and on the hands. This infection is known to affect young children.

Home Treatments for Dental Infections

Dental infections must always receive the attention of a dental professional. There are, however, some at-home treatments for dental infections. These treatments can help manage the condition in the meantime:

  • Rinsing with warm salt water can help keep the area clean. Warm salt water rinses can also provide temporary relief and promote healing.
  • A cold compress (ice pack) can help reduce inflammation. Ice packs can also provide temporary pain relief.
  • Clove oil can be used to provide temporary pain relief.
  • Swishing a mixture of baking soda and water around in the mouth can help keep the area clean.
  • Oregano oil can be used to reduce inflammation and provide temporary relief.

What is Inflammation?

What’s inflammation? Let’s examine the basics of inflammation. We can also touch on the topic of inflammation vs swelling.

Inflammation is the body’s response to a traumatic event, such as injury or infection. Inflammation occurs when the immune system directs white blood cells to the site. This is to provide protection and healing.

Inflammation typically subsides once the body has successfully healed. When this occurs, the body is once again protected.

Are swelling and inflammation the same thing? Contrary to popular belief, there is a difference between inflammation and swelling.

Inflammation is a response from the immune system. Swelling is simply an accumulation of fluid. Swelling is typically a symptom of inflammation.

Acute and Chronic Inflammation

Acute inflammation is the immune system’s immediate response to a traumatic event. Inflammatory cells trigger the healing process.

Alternatively, chronic inflammation occurs when the body continuously and mistakenly sends inflammatory cells. This occurs even if there has not been a traumatic event. Rather than repairing, the white blood cells actually cause harm to healthy tissues.

This condition is also commonly referred to as auto-inflammation. The cause of chronic inflammation is not officially known. It is believed to be caused by certain viruses or certain elements in the environment. It may also perhaps occur due to a genetic predisposition.

People with auto-inflammation typically have higher white blood cell counts than average.

How long does inflammation last? Acute inflammation typically lasts a few days. Chronic inflammation can last weeks, months, or even years.

Symptoms of Inflammation

Acute inflammation can be characterized by swelling, pain, and warmth.

Chronic inflammation can a bit more difficult to identify. Symptoms may vary, but there are some things that are important to watch for.

One frequently asked question about inflammation is, does inflammation cause fever?

Chronic inflammation can be identified by the presence of a fever, though it is not a direct cause.

The 5 classic signs of inflammation include:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Heat
  • Pain
  • Loss of function

Types of Dental Inflammation

As previously discussed, inflammation is simply a symptom of an infection. Identifying different types of inflammation is an essential aspect of diagnosing oral infections.

Inflammation of the gum tissues is one of the most notable symptoms of gum disease. Inflammation of the tonsils is a key indicator when diagnosing tonsillitis.

Home Treatments for Dental Inflammation/Swollen Gums

Inflamed gums are a key sign of gum disease. They should always receive the attention of a dental professional. There are a few things that can help provide relief prior to an in-office visit in the meantime:

  • A cold compress (ice pack) can significantly reduce inflammation.
  • A warm saltwater rinse can help reduce inflammation and keep the area clean.
  • NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can help significantly reduce inflammation. Examples of NSAIDs include  Ibuprofen, Advil, or Aspirin.
  • Clove oil is a natural anti-inflammatory.

Infection Control in a Dental Office

Infection control is absolutely crucial for keeping both staff and patients healthy. You should now understand the difference between infection and inflammation.

Safco Dental Supply proudly provides a wide range of dental infection control products. Our inventory boasts the very best in medical gloves, masks, and sterilization products.

Click here to browse our extensive inventory of infection control products.

For more information about our products or for help with your order, feel free to give us a call at 800.621.2178.

Leave a Reply