Dental mythbuster 25: Sepsis

Page last updated: 3 July 2023
Organisations we regulate

Sepsis following a bacterial infection from a dental condition or treatment is rare. However, it can be a life-threatening condition if patients are not managed appropriately. It is therefore essential providers and their teams are aware of the signs and symptoms of sepsis and how it should be managed.

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is the body’s life-threatening response to infection. It can be catastrophic if undetected and untreated, leading to tissue damage, multiple organ failure and death.

It can affect anyone but is more common in people who have a weakened immune system, a long-term condition, and those who are very young or are frail.

Sepsis signs and symptoms

Spotting deterioration in a patient’s condition can help prevent sepsis. Sepsis claims an estimated 44,000 lives each year (The UK Sepsis Trust).

Symptoms include:

  • malaise
  • shivering
  • muscle pain
  • failure to pass urine in the previous 18 hours.

Signs include:

  • non-blanching rash and cyanosis of the skin, lips or tongue
  • reduced blood pressure
  • increased heart rate
  • increased respiratory rate
  • altered mental state.

Sepsis care: professional guidelines

These clinical tools provide a blueprint for excellent sepsis care:

When we inspect

We will ask staff what systems and processes are in place to manage, follow up and refer patients for specialist care.

This includes:

  • treating patients who:
    • are not responding to conventional oral antibiotic treatment
    • cannot have their infection managed surgically
  • what advice is given to patients, including when they should seek emergency advice or treatment if symptoms worsen or when the dental surgery is closed.

We may ask staff to describe a typical patient journey. For example, if a patient has an acute infection with limited mouth opening, associated with a partially erupted lower wisdom tooth. We may ask to see dental care records to assess how a practice has dealt with previous cases where a patient has presented with severe bacterial infection.

When we inspect the management of sepsis, we assess against: