Dental Health

Infections can develop anywhere in your mouth – in the gums (periodontal), lips, palate, cheeks, and tongue, or within and below teeth (endodontic). Paying attention to dental health is essential in preventing dental infections. A dental infection within or below a tooth can be caused by tooth decay or a broken tooth that causes the pulp to become infected. The pulp is the part of the tooth that contains blood vessels, connective tissue, and large nerves. When an infection occurs, bacteria can move out of the tooth to the bone or tissue below, forming a dental abscess. A dental infection can lead to sepsis.

Sometimes incorrectly called blood poisoning, sepsis is the body’s life-threatening response to infection. Like strokes or heart attacks, sepsis is a medical emergency that requires rapid diagnosis and treatment.

Sepsis and septic shock can result from an infection anywhere in the body, such as pneumonia, influenza, or urinary tract infections. Worldwide, one-third of people who develop sepsis die. Many who survive are left with life-changing effects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain fatigue,  organ dysfunction (organs don’t work properly), and/or amputations.

 

Infections in the mouth

Signs of an infection in the mouth include:

  • Bad breath
  • Bitter taste in the mouth
  • Fever
  • Pain
  • Sensitivity of the teeth to hot or cold
  • Swelling of the gum
  • Swollen glands of the neck
  • Swelling in the jaw

As with all infections, an infection in your mouth should be treated as quickly as possible to reduce the risk of complications, including sepsis. Saltwater mouth rinses while waiting to see your dentist may ease the pain or discomfort. You might also ask your dentist’s office what you could do before your appointment.

If you have an infection, you will probably get a prescription for an antibiotic. Take this antibiotic as directed until it is finished, even if the pain and swelling seem gone. Feeling better does not necessarily mean that the infection has gone away.

Also, ask your dentist if the infection should be drained. If possible, draining can speed up the reduction of pain and swelling. If your case is more complicated, your dentist may refer you to an endodontist or periodontist.

Preventing dental infections with good dental health

Preventing infections in your mouth will help you reduce your risk of developing sepsis. Usual recommendations are to visit your dentist twice a year for up-to-date x-rays, exams, and dental cleanings.

Good oral hygiene is the first basic step in promoting good dental health and preventing infections. Children should learn these habits early on to help them keep healthy mouths and teeth.

  • Brush your teeth thoroughly at least twice a day.
  • Floss your teeth at least once a day.
  • Don’t over brush – brushing too hard or with too hard a brush can damage your teeth. Ask your dental hygienist for the best way for you to brush your teeth.
  • Don’t use your teeth to open packaging, break string, etc. Your teeth are strong, but they are for chewing food, not hard objects. These can crack, chip, or break teeth.
  • Visit your dental office at least twice a year for a thorough cleaning and check-up.
  • If you have had dental work, watch for any signs of infection and contact your dentist if you experience any of the signs listed above.

Infection after dental work

From cleaning to root canals, dental work may cause bleeding and an opening where bacteria can enter the body. While dentists, hygienists, and dental assistants work to keep everything as clean as possible as they do their work, sometimes infections do develop, just as sometimes they do after surgery on another part of the body.

The American Dental Association recommends that certain people receive prophylactic or preventative antibiotics before dental work is done. These people have certain heart conditions that could make them more prone to developing a condition called infective endocarditis. Some people with artificial joints (like a knee or hip) may need prophylactic antibiotics before dental work. If you have an artificial joint, speak with your doctor before you need dental work to see if this is recommended for you.

Here are some of the most common dental procedures.

Tooth extractions

Dentists try to avoid pulling teeth (tooth extractions), but sometimes it is the only option. Endodontic (root canal) procedures are preferable to extraction when possible.

Some reasons for having a tooth extracted are:

  • Too much damage to the pulp (within the tooth) from infection or decay.
  • Infection that remains, even after treatment with antibiotics.
  • Loose teeth from gum disease .
  • Crowded mouth before orthodontics (braces).
  • Teeth that cannot be restored with a dental crown or restoration.

Tooth fillings

Another part of good dental health is getting dental repairs as quickly as possible. Tooth fillings can fix a cavity or hole. After cleaning out debris and dirt, the dentist inserts the filling material to protect the tooth.

If you have an infection or have had a root canal, the dentist may put in a temporary filling. A temporary filling protects the pulp from bacteria reaching it and usually helps relieve any pain that you may be feeling. Permanent fillings must replace temporary ones.

Root canals 

Your dentist may suggest a root canal done for badly decayed or infected teeth before the more drastic step of extracting (pulling) the tooth.

The dentist or endodontist removes the nerve and pulp from the inside of the tooth. A sterile inert (chemically inactive) material replaces the pulp.

If you suspect sepsis, call 9-1-1 or go to a hospital and tell your medical professional, “I AM CONCERNED ABOUT SEPSIS.” 

 

 

what is sepsis

The information here is also available as a Sepsis Information Guide, which is a downloadable format for easier printing.

Suggested Citation: Sepsis Alliance. Sepsis and Dental Health. 2022. https://www.sepsis.org/sepsisand/dental-health/

Would you like to share your story about sepsis or read about others who have had sepsis? Please visit Faces of Sepsis, where you will find hundreds of stories from survivors and tributes to those who died from sepsis.

Updated January 24, 2022.

Read Personal Stories of Sepsis and Dental Health

Thomas Hubert Tiernan

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Tom was a son, a grandson, a brother, a friend, a co-worker, a US naval veteran, a husband, a father, a nephew, a cousin, a neighbor, a Little League coach, a mentor, and most importantly, a child of God. As I know it, a little bit of history leading up to Tom contracting sepsis. Tom grew up in a large and loving family. Tom was the seventh child of 13 siblings. Tom was a healthy and vibrant young man. Tom served in the US Navy and Reserves for over 10 years, passing every health physical! As the years progressed, life ... Read Full Story

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Shawn M.

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Shawn started with dizziness, nausea and fatigue. His blood pressure soared to stroke levels, and his heart rate was nearly 100 bpm. I took him to the hospital because I thought he was having a stroke. While at the hospital they treated him for high blood pressure. When he wasn’t responding to the medication for dizziness and nausea, they sent him for a CAT scan and found that he had a very large abscess in his jaw. The ER doctor recommended that he have that taken out as soon as possible, and they sent him home with medications to address ... Read Full Story

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Heather Wargo

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It all began on a Sunday. I had gone to the ortho dentist two days prior for dental work, to include the removal of an abscessed root canal. I was a 41 year old, mostly healthy woman and my youngest child was 6 months old and breastfeeding. Saturday evening, I began to feel as though I had picked up the flu or a bad cold… kinda achy, just tired. I didn’t have a fever, but I just felt off. (Sepsis and Dental Health) Sunday I woke up and my lower back was really sore, which I thought was strange, but ... Read Full Story

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Susan Neill

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I’m Sue from Chichester, UK. In 2017, I went to the dentist and he nicked my gum which got infected, and I went into the worst abscess. (Sepsis and Dental Health) I had the highest temperature I’ve ever had in my life, and at about 9pm that night my husband came to check on me before going to bed, I was all blue, grey and hardly breathing. By that night I was rushed to hospital, I didn’t know anything about it. Turns out I had sepsis. I had all my limbs amputated, lost my nose, and all my lips, four ... Read Full Story

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Craig Hunter

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About a year ago, I had gone to the dentist and had a root canal done, for which, my dentist gave me a prescription for an antibiotic. (Sepsis and Dental Health) I don’t think I was done with the prescription, but one night, I just didn’t feel right. For no reason apparent to me, I had the chills so bad my teeth were chattering. I couldn’t hold still long enough to stay in bed and sleep so I decided to take a hot bath. I got in the water but it wasn’t a comfort or help with the chatters. I ... Read Full Story

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Dental Health

Infections can develop anywhere in your mouth – in the gums (periodontal), lips, palate, cheeks, and tongue, or within and below teeth (endodontic). Paying attention to dental health is important in preventing dental infections. A dental infection within or below a tooth can be caused by tooth decay or a broken tooth that causes the pulp to become infected. The pulp is the part of the tooth that contains blood vessels, connective tissue, and large nerves. When an infection occurs, bacteria can move out of the tooth to the bone or tissue below, forming a dental abscess. A dental infection can lead to sepsis