Association replies to the rise in dental sepsis cases

23 January 2024

The British Dental Association (BDA) has responded to reports in the Daily Mirror of a surge in deaths from dental sepsis. Which it says are fuelled by ongoing access problems.

One clinician based in the North of England described their local hospital as “like a battlefield” given the volume of dental sepsis cases. These cases are normally rare and result from untreated infections leading to a dental abscess - a build-up of pus in the teeth or gums, which requires urgent treatment by a dentist and will not go away on its own.

The Mirror reported an anonymous dentist working in secondary care observed, “We’re now seeing patients dying from toothache. We’ve never witnessed this before, and there have been multiple cases. One patient came into A&E, was intubated immediately, but died of dental infection without ever regaining consciousness.

"Ultimately, these are the result of access problems in primary care. It’s clear to me these infections will claim more lives. The powers that be should never have allowed dentistry to get into this state.”

The BDA says it has been overwhelmed by feedback from members on the growing problems among patients presenting late, often with more serious conditions that could have been captured early. Data released in 2023 showed 9,860 cases of mouth cancer in the UK in 2020/21 - up 12 per cent on the previous comparable year. The disease killed more than 3,000 people in 2021 which was up 46 per cent, from 2,075 a decade ago. Early detection results in a 90 per cent survival rate. This drops to a 50 per cent survival rate after a delayed diagnosis.

A recent Freedom of Information request from the Labour Party showed 52,000 patients visited A&E with dental abscesses last year, with another 15,000 presenting with tooth decay itself. Decay is the number one reason for hospital admissions among young children.

In December, the Nuffield Trust described the service as facing the most perilous moment in its 75-year history. A recovery plan for NHS dentistry remains unpublished. The BDA say this plan may represent this government’s last chance to prove it is serious about giving NHS dental care a future.

Eddie Crouch, chair of the British Dental Association, said, “This crisis is hitting every corner of our health service.

“It’s the patients piling into emergency rooms and GP surgeries. It’s the oral cancers caught too late and the simple problems that end up as life-threatening infections.

“Official indifference to NHS dentistry has a body count. What more will it take for this government to wake up?”


References available on request.