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Dental mythbuster 25: Sepsis

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Sepsis following a bacterial infection from a dental condition or treatment is rare, but it is possible for this life-threatening condition to occur if patients are not managed appropriately.

We will consider how the practice deals with patients who present a risk of a dental infection progressing to sepsis when we review if the practice is safe and well-led.

This relates to:

Sepsis 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:

  • altered mental state
  • malaise
  • shivering
  • muscle pain
  • failure to pass urine in the previous 18 hours
  • breathlessness and increased breathing
  • increased heart rate
  • reduced blood pressure
  • non-blanching rash and cyanosis of the skin, lips or tongue.

Sepsis care: professional guidelines

These clinical tools provide a blueprint for excellent sepsis care:

What to expect on inspection

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

This includes:

  • treating patients who:
    • are not responding to conventional oral antibiotic treatment
    • cannot have their infection drained at an initial appointment
  • 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.

For example: We may ask staff to describe a typical patient journey if a patient has an acute infection associated with a partially erupted lower wisdom tooth and possible limited opening of the jaw. In addition, we may ask to see dental care records to assess how a practice has dealt with previous cases in which a patient has presented with bacterial infection.

Last updated:
22 February 2019