Can dental infections be deadly?
There was a recent story about a truck driver who died from complications of a dental infection. When most people think of a tooth infection, they assume the worst that can happen is pain and loss of the tooth. However, the bacteria that collect and form an abscess can spread throughout the body and lead to serious problems: even death. So how does this happen?
An abscess is a swollen area of tissue that contains an accumulation of pus. If a tooth is infected, this collection of bacteria forms under or around the tooth. It is often not visible or detectable until it grows larger. The bacteria eat away at your jaw bone and can create openings out of the bone or into different parts of the body.
If a lower tooth develops an abscess, you are at risk for a potentially life threatening cellulitis (connective tissue infection) called Ludwig’s Angina. If the dental infection spreads down to the neck, it could obstruct the airway and necessitate surgical intervention. For anyone who is concerned that they have a dental infection, swelling, and are having trouble breathing, we recommend going to the emergency room. It will likely take the care of a critical care doctor to properly treat. Once it has become Ludwig’s Angina, it is beyond our scope to treat as general dentists.
It is also possible for a maxillary tooth to lead to life threatening problems. If the infection produces pus, the sinuses may fill with the infection. If the bacteria then enter the bloodstream, the resulting illness can be very serious. Unlike a traditional sinus infection, antibiotics alone will not cure the dental born infection. Either root canal treatment or tooth extraction will be needed to completely remove the problem.
We recommend taking a dental infection very seriously. It can cause you pain, swelling, and even death. By keeping regular appointments and x-rays, you can usually avoid any serious repercussions. If you ever have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to call right away.