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Risk of serious head and neck infections related to lack of dental care and poor oral hygiene

April 17, 2024
A recent study indicates the risk of severe head and neck infections is exacerbated by poor oral hygiene. Lack of access to care was also a background factor for infections requiring hospitalization. Learn more.

Scientific evidence of the connection between oral infections and overall health is steadily increasing. A recent doctoral dissertation from the University of Turku, in Finland, reveals that poor oral hygiene increases the risk of severe infections in the head and neck area, requiring hospitalization. Simultaneously, it is found that investments in oral health and dental care can reduce the costs, complications, and mortality associated with these infections.

As dental or throat inflammation progresses, deep neck infection often arises as a serious bacterial infection. Treatment typically involves intravenous antibiotics and surgery on the mouth, jaws, and neck area, sometimes requiring intensive care.

Study on severe orofacial and neck infections

In a recent patient study, factors influencing the course of the disease, complications, and microbiology were examined in 277 patients, along with the use of magnetic resonance imaging in emergency neck imaging. The results revealed an increasing problem with neck infections, with the proportion of dental-related infections on the rise.

Findings showed that mortality in head and neck infections occurred in severely ill patients (1.4%), with complications occurring in about a fifth of cases. Magnetic resonance imaging of the neck was found to be a useful and accurate diagnostic method, even during on-call hours.

The study also examined factors exacerbating and preventing head and neck infections. It confirmed the significance of poor oral hygiene and lack of access to dental care as background factors for infections requiring hospitalization. Patients who repeatedly use acute dental services are particularly at risk.

Because cavities and their progression are preventable, investments in good oral health, education, and adequate access to dental care can help reduce the significant costs, complications, and mortality associated with these infections. The study also noted that in children, deep neck infections are more commonly due to throat and lymph node inflammation.

Access the study here.

How can dental infections affect the neck area?

Dental-related infections can rapidly affect the neck area. For instance, root canal infections or inflammation of the tooth’s supporting tissues can spread to the neck area through lymphatic vessels or blood vessels, causing serious complications. Dental infections must be treated properly and promptly to prevent their spread.

What are the most common dental infections?

  • Dental caries: Caused by bacteria that produce acids and thrive in an acidic environment, caries can lead to tooth decay and pain. Good oral hygiene and a healthy diet help prevent cavities.
  • Root canal infections: Infections can cause pain and inflammation at the root of the tooth. Root canal treatment is a common method for these infections.
  • Gingivitis: Bacteria can cause inflammation of the gums. Regular dental care and cleaning of the gum pockets help prevent gingivitis.
  • Periodontitis: Periodontitis can cause damage to the tooth’s supporting tissues and looseness of the teeth. Good oral hygiene and regular dental checkups are essential.
  • Infections related to dental implants: Implants can be prone to infections. Proper treatment and monitoring are necessary.
  • Connection between oral infections and systemic infections: Oral infections can also affect overall health. Good oral hygiene is a preventive for infections. Serious infections require collaboration between dentists and physicians.

How can dental infections be prevented?

  • Oral hygiene: Regular toothbrushing with fluoride toothpaste twice a day, as well as cleaning between teeth daily, can help prevent infections. Regular dental checkups are recommended, as advanced infections often require specialized dental care.
  • Healthy diet: Avoid frequent consumption of sugary products, as they increase the risk of tooth decay.
  • Xylitol: Xylitol lozenges or chewing gum after meals can help prevent cavities.
  • Antibacterial treatment: Lumoral is a Finnish breakthrough invention that removes 99.998% of plaque bacteria. This medical device can be used at home to help prevent bacterial-induced oral diseases. (This technology is not yet available in the US.)

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Clinical Insights newsletter, a publication of the Endeavor Business Media Dental Group. Read more articles and subscribe.

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Nina Garlo-Melkas, MSc, is a health and science journalist who works as communications manager at Koite Health Ltd., a quickly growing health technology company and innovator in light-activated antibacterial solutions for treating and preventing oral diseases.