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A 25-year-old woman who ended up with a life-threatening infection after having a wisdom tooth removed has gone public with her experience to educate people on the signs of sepsis.
Emily Partington of Yorkshire, England had a decaying wisdom tooth extracted late last year. Her face was puffy afterward, but she figured that this was because of the procedure itself and it would dissipate, she told the Daily Mail.
Two days later, her face and neck were so swollen that she couldn’t keep food or water down. On the advice of a doctor in her family, she went to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with sepsis, a potentially fatal condition.
“I was worried for my life,” Partington said. “Whilst I was in the waiting room, I genuinely thought I would pass out and not wake up.”
The 3D artist was given IV liquids and antibiotics in hospital, then had to take several medications at home. Although she no longer has sepsis, to this day she still battles lasting effects such as headaches, bone aches, and fatigue.
“I was very lucky my first doctor pumped me so full of fluids and antibiotics, otherwise I would have died on the second night,' Partington said. “It’s believed the sepsis was contracted because the tooth was so infected when they took it out, so when it caused an open wound, the infection went straight into my bloodstream.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes sepsis, the body’s extreme response to an infection, as a “life-threatening medical emergency.”
It occurs when an infection you already have anywhere in your body—whether it’s in your skin, lungs, mouth, urinary tract, or somewhere else—triggers a chain reaction.
Without prompt medical intervention, sepsis can lead quickly to tissue damage, organ failure, and death.
As in the case of Partington, sepsis stemming from an infected wisdom tooth is not uncommon.
According to Sepsis Alliance, infections can develop anywhere in the mouth, including the gums, lips, palate, cheeks, tongue, and within and below the teeth.
Tooth decay or a broken tooth can cause the pulp of the tooth (which contains blood vessels, connective tissue, and large nerves) to become infected. As a result, bacteria can move out of the tooth to the bone or tissue below, forming a dental abscess, which can lead to sepsis.
“A superficial cut usually doesn’t cause any problem, but an infection in a wisdom tooth would go pretty deep into the socket and other structures of the head and neck,” says Dr. Anthony W. Chow, professor emeritus in the division of infectious diseases at the University of British Columbia and Vancouver General Hospital.
“A wisdom tooth is certainly an important site because of its location in the head, and because an infection communicates with other deep parts of the face,” he says. “Any deep infection, such as infection of the heart, lungs, kidney, and any deep tissues can affect the bloodstream.”
Other dental work, whether it’s cleaning or root canals, can cause bleeding and an opening where bacteria can enter the body, potentially leading to infection.
Early signs of sepsis include: elevated or low body temperature, chills and shivering, rapid heartbeat, problems with or changes to breathing, and feeling “off.”
More severe symptoms can indicate septic shock, when blood pressure drops to a dangerously low level. These signs include dizziness or faintness, confusion or disorientation, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting, slurred speech, muscle pain, breathlessness, low urine production, cold or clammy skin, and loss of consciousness.
People should call 911 or get medical attention right away if they have early signs of sepsis and have recently had an infection or injury,
If you have an infection that is not getting better or worsening, or if you are feeling worse or not getting better in the days after surgery, the CDC urges people to ask their healthcare professional whether they could be facing sepsis.
Sepsis Alliance uses the TIME acronym to help people recall sepsis basics:
T: Temperature: higher or lower than normal
I: Infection: may have signs and symptoms of one
M: Mental decline: feeling confused, sleepy, and difficult to rouse
E: Extremely ill: “I feel like I might die” or severe discomfort or pain
Up to 50 perc ent of people who survive sepsis go on to experience post-sepsis syndrome, according to Sepsis Alliance. It’s marked by trouble sleeping, nightmares, panic attacks, intense muscle or joint pain, difficulty concentrating, decreased cognitive functioning, and depression.
Infants, older people, those with a compromised immune system, and people with cancer or diabetes are at greater risk of developing sepsis than others.
When it comes to the British woman’s wisdom tooth health scare, Chow says that proper oral hygiene and dental care are crucial in terms of preventing sepsis and overall health and well-being.
“You want to make sure you have good oral care and are visiting the dentist regularly and are taking care of any problems like toothaches or a decayed tooth as a preventive measure, to keep them from getting infected,” Chow says. “Good dental care is an important source of health from an infection point of view.
“There’s a lot of good evidence coming out showing the connection between good oral health and other serious conditions such as heart disease and stroke,” he points out. “Oral health is actually a very important area to protect and maintain.”