Sepsis and Dental Infections

Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening condition that can occur when the body’s response to an infection damages its own tissues and organs. Symptoms of sepsis can include fever, rapid heart rate, rapid breathing, confusion or disorientation, low blood pressure, and difficulty breathing. If you suspect that you or someone you know may have sepsis, it is important to seek medical attention immediately .Treatment for sepsis typically involves antibiotics and supportive care, such as IV fluids and oxygen therapy. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove infected tissue or to prevent the spread of infection.

Dental infections are one of the many possible sources of infection that can lead to sepsis.

A dental infection can occur when bacteria invade the pulp of a tooth or the surrounding gum tissue. The infection can cause pain, swelling, and redness in the affected area. The infection can sometimes spread to other body parts, including the bloodstream, and lead to sepsis.

Prevention of dental infections and sepsis includes practicing good oral hygiene, such as brushing twice a day, flossing daily, and visiting the dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings. It is also important to seek prompt dental care for any signs of infection, such as pain, swelling, or redness in the mouth.

Infections can occur anywhere in the body – including in the mouth. Although the tongue, inside of the cheek and tonsils can all become infected, dental infections usually refer to infections that occur in the teeth or gums. The most common forms of dental infections are cavities and gum disease, both of which can lead to abscesses (a painful swelling filled with pus). Dental work, oral surgery and injuries to teeth can also put patients at risk of infection. Left untreated, dental infections can lead to sepsis.

Dental Infections
Tooth decay.
In the United States, dental cavities are the most common disease in both adults and children. Fifty percent of children between six and eight years of age have dental cavities and 85 percent of adults have at least one tooth with decay or a filling on the crown.

Tooth decay occurs when bacteria make acid that eats through the layers of a tooth and causes a cavity. The more layers of the tooth that are penetrated, the more severe the decay and the higher the likelihood of serious health problems, including severe infection.  A tooth abscess may form inside the tooth, showing up at the root and spreading to the surrounding bone.

Gum disease.
Gum disease, or periodontal disease, affects the tissues and bones surrounding the teeth. Like tooth decay, gum disease is caused primarily by a buildup of bacteria in the mouth from poor dental hygiene, which causes plaque to form. However, hormonal changes such as those that occur during pregnancy and menopause and illnesses that impact the immune system, such as HIV or cancer, can also be responsible. During the early stages of gum disease, called gingivitis, gums become inflamed and bleed easily during brushing. If not resolved, gingivitis can become periodontitis, causing the gums to pull away from the teeth and form pockets that collect debris and become infected, forming a gum abscess.

Infection after dental procedure.
Despite the best efforts of dentists and dental hygienists, infection can result from routine dental procedures, such as teeth cleanings and fillings, and more complicated ones, such as tooth extractions and root canals. You may be prescribed a preventative antibiotic before some procedures and can ask your dentist whether you require one. People with certain health conditions, such as heart disease, are more susceptible to bacterial infections, such as endocarditis, from dental work. Tell your dentist if you have a medical condition prior to treatment and ask if prophylactic antibiotics are appropriate. All patients should be vigilant for signs of infection following dental work.

Symptoms can be many and different and can include:

  • Gums that bleed during brushing
  • Bad breath
  • Persistent toothache
  • Sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures
  • Swollen gums
  • Fever
  • Tender, swollen glands in the neck or under the jaw
  • Bitter, salty taste in mouth

Risk Factors.
Viral sepsis can impact anyone–young, old, sick, or healthy. Those with an increased risk of infection include:

  • People with chronic illnesses such as diabetes
  • Those with weakened immune systems
  • Pregnant and menopausal people
  • The elderly
  • Infants

An infected tooth needs attention–you must see your dentist immediately. An infection in your mouth could spread, especially if your immune system is weak because of a health condition like AIDS or HIV or you are taking certain medications. To determine if you have an infection, your dentist will:

  • Tap on your teeth; if you have an infection, it will hurt
  • Take an X-ray to locate the infection
  • The dentist may send you to an endodontist who is an expert on tooth infections

Fortunately, dental infections are preventable in most cases with good oral hygiene habits. These include:

  • Regular annual check-ups with a dentist
  • Brushing teeth at least twice a day
  • Flossing at least once a day
  • Using toothpaste that includes fluoride to prevent tooth decay
  • Avoiding foods and drinks with high sugar content; sugar promotes the growth of plaque
  • Avoiding tobacco products, which can cause gum disease and oral cancer
  • Keeping your tongue clean by brushing gently with a soft-bristled toothbrush to

Dental Infection In Children.
Pediatric dental disease is the most prevalent chronic illness in children in the United States. It can have a negative impact on many aspects of a child’s overall health and development, including causing serious bacterial infections that can lead to sepsis and, in certain circumstances, death. Here are some tips to keep your little one healthy:

  • Beginning at birth, use a damp cloth or soft toothbrush to clean your infant’s gums/teeth daily.
  • Clean pacifiers and bottle nipples with warm, soapy water – not by putting them in your own mouth. You can share bacteria from your own mouth with your infant and cause tooth decay.
  • Feed your child water instead of juice or drinks with a high sugar content that can cause plaque and lead to tooth decay.
  • Encourage good oral hygiene habits in your children by leading by example! Brush and floss your own teeth every day.
  • Limit sweets and other sugary foods in your child’s diet.
  • Help your child brush and floss twice daily
  • Make regular dental check-ups and cleanings for your child.
  • Visit our friends at America’s ToothFairy for more information on children’s oral health.

Visit our Sepsis and Children page for more information on keeping your child healthy.