Did the Emergency Dentist Cause My Infection?

I went to the emergency dentist about a week ago for a horrible toothache. The doctor recommended that I get a root canal and crown done but I didn’t have money for it at the time. So, he offered to pull the tooth for me instead. To be clear, I did not have any signs of infection before this. My tooth or face didn’t have any signs of swelling and, aside from the pain, which was constant and throbbing, I felt generally well. After I agreed to have the tooth pulled by the emergency dentist, his staff started setting things up. One of the pieces was a large rubber piece with a string attached, though the string looked like it was covered in old blood stains. I didn’t know what it was for at the time and I was nervous, so I didn’t say anything. However, during the procedure, they used the rubber piece to hold my mouth open. About a day or so after the tooth was pulled, the area where the tooth was pulled started swelling and leaking pus. I called the office and they phoned in an antibiotic to my pharmacy, which I have been taking as directed. So far, it doesn’t seem to have done much of anything. I feel like I have the flu now and the infection isn’t going away. I’m worried that the office wasn’t clean now, and that maybe I caught something from unclean tools. Is this possible? Did the emergency dentist actually give me an infection? And, what should I do now? Do I just keep taking the antibiotics and wait for them to work?



Dear Farrah,

Infection control procedures are essential in any kind of medical or dental office, but they do get overlooked in disorganized practices. This is why cold bugs and even MRSA get spread throughout hospitals. Healthy people can go in for routine procedures and come out very sick. That’s not to worry you, but it’s a hard truth about the medical industry as a whole. You have to choose your dental providers carefully and make sure that they are following all infection control procedures.

As for the rubber piece you mentioned, it’s commonly referred to as a “bite block” in the industry. Some offices will attach a string to them, just as a precaution in case someone manages to knock one out of place. The string makes it easier to grab it, so it’s not a choking hazard. However, what you say about there being old blood on it is concerning. At its best, that’s off-putting. At its worst, it could have the potential to spread infections. Nobody but the people at that office knows what their infection control procedures are and if they follow them religiously. There are two main types of sterilization techniques used in dental offices. Most items are essentially baked or steamed at very high temperatures, certain to kill the vast majority of pathogens. If you think of it, it’s like baking or cooking your food. You know food has to hit a certain temperature for a specific period of time in order to be safe to eat. Dental offices use the same philosophy and kill the bad things with heat. Now, this deals with the germs, but it won’t get rid of stains. Although there is a process to get rid of debris before things get the heat treatment, that won’t get rid of stains either. So, it’s possible you were looking at old blood stains that were totally harmless. It’s also possible that the heat damaged the string and made it look brown. Either way, they should have changed it out, but there’s no smoking gun there to suggest they aren’t practicing proper infection control.

Yes, you did get an infection “after” visiting the emergency dentist, but you don’t know when you picked it up and you haven’t said why the tooth needed treatment. There may have been a small infection before the extraction. There’s no way to know exactly when you were exposed to whatever caused the infection. However, it is clear that the antibiotics you have are not working. Give the emergency dentist another call and let the office know what your symptoms are. They may want to check you out again, or at the very least, get you on a new antibiotic. If you aren’t comfortable with that office anymore, find another local emergency dentist who will see you- do not try to wait this one out.

This blog is sponsored byElgin emergency dentist, Dr. Steve Sirin.

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