Sepsis and 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.

Children are also at risk for dental issues, including caries (cavities) and infections. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (part of the National Institutes of Health), during the period from 2011 to 2016, 23% of children ages 2 to 5 years have had dental caries in their primary teeth. Black and Mexican American children were also more likely to have decay than white children.

Sepsis, which was often called blood poisoning, 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.

Suggested Citation:
Sepsis Alliance. Sepsis and Dental Health. 2024. https://www.sepsis.org/sepsisand/dental-health/

Updated January 25, 2024.

 

More About Dental Health

Symptoms

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
Treatment

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.

Prevention

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.

  • 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.

For children:

Pediatric dentists recommend that parents/guardians wipe their baby’s gums with a soft, clean cloth in the morning and right before their night bedtime – even before teeth are starting to show.

Once baby teeth start appearing, you can brush them gently twice a day, using a small-bristled toothbrush and plain water.

If you have any concerns about your baby’s mouth or teeth, bring your child to a dentist as soon as possible. All children should visit a dentist by their first birthday so the dentist can assess how the teeth are coming in. Aside from regular teeth cleaning and checkups, your child’s dentist may recommend other measures, such as applying sealants to protect the teeth.

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.

If you have any symptoms of an infection, contact your dental office immediately. If the office is closed or you cannot reach the dentist, go to an emergency department or urgent care clinic.

The American Dental Association recommends that certain people receive prophylactic (preventative) antibiotics before they get dental work. 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 too. If you have an artificial joint, speak with your doctor before you need dental work to see if this is recommended for you.

 

Related Resources

LA SEPSIS Y LAS INFECCIONES DENTALES

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Dental Infections

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Thomas Hubert Tiernan

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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Susan Neill

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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Shawn M.

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Heather Wargo

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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I got sepsis after a massive tooth infection. (Sepsis and Dental Health) No one knew what was happening. I woke up in May of 2012 freezing and gasping for breath. We called 911 and I went into respiratory distress. I had a fever of 104.5. I was intubated and brought to a bigger hospital. They kept me in a medically induced coma for a month where my liver was failing and my kidneys. My parents were told to plan my funeral. After a month my fever broke, right before they were going to put a trach in. When I awoke, ... Read Full Story

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Other Topics

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