After repeated questions from people who were tempted to just nurse along a dental infection and not get it fully treated, I decided to research to find out about people who have died from dental infections. A study published in the Journal of Endodontics about ten years ago reported 66 deaths from tooth infections during 2000-2008. That works out to about five to ten deaths per year in the United States from dental infections.
Then I also found a story from 2017 that is particularly instructive of the danger of just taking antibiotics to tamp down the infection without getting the needed treatment of a root canal or an extraction. I’ll share that below.
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Vadim Kondratyuk Anatoliyevich, age 26, was a father of two little girls and a long haul truck driver from Antelope, California. He took off for New York with a hauling job in the middle of January, 2017. His wife said his tooth was hurting when he left. It got worse, so he stopped in Oklahoma and saw a dentist. The dentist prescribed antibiotics and sent him on his way. The pain got better but then got worse, and the side of his face swelled up. He made his delivery, but it got so bad that he couldn’t make the drive home. So his brother flew to New York to drive him home. On the way, Vadim’s condition worsened. His breathing became labored and he grew pale, so his brother took him to a hospital in Utah where he was placed on oxygen and then flown to a larger facility in Salt Lake City.
His condition was life-threatening because the infection had spread to his blood and lungs. Doctors in Salt Lake City prescribed stronger antibiotics and put him on dialysis. But they soon determined that they wouldn’t be able to save him. They notified his wife that he kept getting worse and nothing they did was working. She was able to fly in and say goodbye before he died.
The important point I want to get across here is that it is dangerous to treat a tooth infection by just giving antibiotics. The source of the infection is dead tissue inside the tooth. Since there is no blood circulation there, there is no way for antibiotics to get in and eradicate the infection. Therefore, you end up helping to breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Vadim, while he was otherwise healthy, was diabetic, which made him more vulnerable to infections. It’s hard to be too critical of the dentist in Oklahoma, because he was dealing with a transient who wouldn’t be around to complete the treatment, and some family practice dentists don’t do any root canals. But what he should have done, in retrospect, was at least begin root canal treatment and maybe sealed a disinfectant inside the tooth.
And what Vadim should have done was address his toothache when he first felt it.
Anyway, here is a listing of some of my earlier blog posts that warn about trying to treat a tooth infection with just antibiotics:
– Dr. Hall
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