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Oral Infections Causing More Hospitalizations

Left untreated, a serious tooth abscess can eventually kill.

In 2007, Deamonte Driver, a 12-year-old boy in Maryland, died after bacteria from an abscessed tooth spread to his brain. The case drew widespread media attention, and his is the cautionary tale cited whenever politicians and advocates discuss access to oral health care.

But a new study suggests that deaths from these preventable infections may not be as rare as once thought and that the number of Americans hospitalized with them may be on the rise.

Studies have shown that dental problems account for hundreds of thousands of emergency room visits each year. The new analysis, published in the September issue of the Journal of Endodontics, focused on patients who had to be hospitalized because of an infection of the tip of the tooth’s root, called a periapical abscess. It is a common consequence of untreated tooth decay, and it can be dangerous if it spreads.

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