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An abscessed tooth generally has one of two causes. A periodontal abscess will  appear in the supporting area between the gum and the tooth and is also known as a “gum boil”.   It can also start at the center of the tooth (a periapical abscess) due to the enamel being eroded by decay, which allows bacteria to reach the middle of the tooth and, at its most advanced, the nerve.  Both conditions can usually be treated successfully with antibiotics and – with nerve involvement –  with a root canal.

Last month a 31-year-old man from Cincinnati passed away from complications arising from an abscessed tooh.  He had delayed dental treatment due to finances, and he believed he had a minor sinus infection. Unfortunately it was  a tooth infection, which infected his blood.  He underwent open heart surgery, which was unsuccessful in saving him.

Another fatality occurred in 2011 when a 24-year-old single father, also living in Cincinnati, opted for pain medication for a tooth infection instead of antibiotics  due to finances. The bacteria from his abscessed tooth spread to his brain and caused his death.

In both cases, what should have been a matter of simple prevention became lethal.  In the first instance there was the additional complication of mistaking a tooth infection for a sinus infection.  10-12% of sinus infections actually originate in the teeth, and the percentage may actually be  higher.

The American Academy of Oral Systemic Health reported a recent case study in St. Louis Missouri in which 100 free dental screenings were done for patients who thought they had chronic sinus infections.   According to Dr. Sindelar, who performed the screenings,  “75% of them had failing upper molars, either with broken down, decayed, abscessed, secondary abscessed, or split teeth that the patient was unaware of….  What is assumed by the patient to be a sinus infection quite often is a symptom, not an actual sinus condition.”