Legal Articles

September 5, 2013

Dental hygiene causing more hospital visits

You probably didn’t know that root canal you’ve been putting off might be putting you at risk for serious health complications. In fact, dental hygiene can have a significant negative impact on your well-being when you neglect it. A new study has found that really serious tooth abscesses have the potential to be lethal.

Periapical abscess can be fatal

Just six years ago, a 12-year-old boy named Deamont Driver, of Maryland, died because an abscessed tooth was neglected and bacteria spread from it to his brain. And this type of case isn’t as rare as you may think. In the September 2013 issue of the Journal of Endodontics, a new analysis looked at “patients who had to be hospitalized because of an infection of the tip of the tooth’s root, called a periapical abscess.” This abscess results from untreated tooth decay.

Tooth abscesses on the rise

Between 2000 and 2008, hospital visits to treat dental abscesses shot through the roof, going from 5.757 in 2000 to 8,141 in 2008. That’s a 40 percent increase. Of those treated, 66 died. Dr. Frank Catalanotto, chairman of the department of community dentistry and behavioral science at the University of Florida College of Dentistry, was not involved in the report, but he agreed that, “The seriousness of dental infections that go untreated or are treated too late is a bigger problem thatn we had estimated.”

One cause of this problem could be lack of dental insurance. Paying for root canals out of pocket can be prohibitively expensive and few patients without insurance can pay for it. Instead, people go to the emergency room for treatment. Pew Charitable Trusts estimates that in 2009, abscessed teeth were responsible for 830,590 emergency room visits.

Prevent ER visits with early detection

To prevent such visits, Dr. Samuel Dorn, a chairman of endodontics at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, said people should get dental work done as quickly as possible. “People put it off until they find their face all swollen or they can’t breathe,” he said, “And that’s when we have these emergent conditions.” Symptoms of an abscessed tooth include swelling of the cheek, gum tenderness or pain, and bleeding. If these signs are coupled with knowledge of untreated dental problems, the likelihood of abscess diagnosis is even more sure.

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