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Time to Talk About – Deadly Oral Infections

In August of 2013, the New York Times reported that a recent study, published in the Journal of Endodontics, had found that hospitalizations due to oral infections was on the rise, and that deaths due to oral infections may be as well. The story included a report of a 12 year old child from Maryland who had died due to an untreated tooth abscess, when the bacteria from the infection travelled to his brain.

"After reviewing national patient data from 2000 to 2008, researchers in Boston found that the people hospitalized for dental abscesses increased by more than 40 percent, to 8,141 in 2008 from 5,757 in 2000. Some 66 patients died after they were hospitalized, according to the new analysis," the report said. The report continued, by saying, "It is a common consequence of untreated tooth decay, and it can be dangerous if it spreads."

Previous studies indicate that literally hundreds-of-thousands of hospital emergency room visits per year are the result of dental problems, but this is the first time a direct correlation has been found between oral infections and deaths. Further, a Pew Charitable Trusts report from 2012 found that hospital treatment of dental conditions, including tooth abscess, had increased by 16% from 2006 to 2009. The overall consensus from the report is that hospitalizations and hospital treatment of preventable oral infections, rather than preventive care by a dentist, was a much larger problem than previously thought.

How to prevent oral infections

It should go without saying, yet we are saying it, that regular brushing and flossing will go a very long way toward preventing oral infections, while regular visits to your dentist can prevent deadly oral infections, and trips to the emergency room for a preventable dental infection. Beyond this, proper oral hygiene can also prevent tooth loss in children and adults.

To prevent an oral infection, you should:

Brush your teeth twice daily, covering all surfaces thoroughly, including your tongue, where plaque can hide. Go here for tips on how to brush your teeth. Go here to watch Dr. Maroney’s video blog, What Kind of Toothbrush Should You Use?.

Floss at least once a day to scrape plaque from the areas between your teeth. Go here for tips on how to floss.

Rinse your mouth with an antiseptic mouthwash or antiplaque mouthwash.

Avoid using all tobacco products.

Visit your dentist regularly for professional cleaning and a full examination of your mouth.

It makes little sense to wait until the pain of an oral infection is so great that you must visit the emergency room. It is also dangerous, as indicated by the report mentioned above. Instead, take steps to prevent an oral infection now, and every day, to avoid the possibility of hospitalization – and even death.

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