Following this week’s episode of BBC One’s Trust Me, the potential complications of an untreated dental abscess were laid down.
The hospital drama, starring Jodie Whittaker as bogus doctor Cath Hardacre, saw a medical team rush to save a patient who was hurried into A&E with a dental abscess – after previously been turned away.
Despite the efforts of the Whittaker – who has also been announced as the new Doctor Who – and her team, the patient died on the hospital bed.
So what the myths and facts relating to dental abscesses? Is it really a matter of life or death?
Dr Mervyn Druian is a dental surgeon at the London Centre for Cosmetic Dentistry. He says it is vital that suspected dental abscesses are checked out as soon as possible – and not left to develop and worsen.
‘A dental abscess is an infection caused when the nerve is dead,’ he says.
‘The white blood cells connect at the top of the root. Something starts to cause pressure and that’s how the abscess starts to form. Usually, it’s begun by a damaged, knocked or decayed tooth.’
Abscesses can take anything from two to three months to two to three years to form. Dr Mervyn says its development depends entirely on the person’s resistance – complications like the flu can reduce the body’s ability to fight it off.
And how do you know if you have one? ‘It starts to become susceptible to pressure,’ he says. ‘As you put your teeth together, it’ll hurt. Sometimes you may get a little pimple on the gum at the tip of the tooth, or you may experience a bad taste.’
Dr Mervyn also explains how the dramatic conclusion of Trust Me on Tuesday night is not factually incorrect – an untreated dental abscess can put a patient’s life at risk.
‘Of course it can be fatal. The roots of your teeth are quite close to your brain,’ he says. ‘If it is really badly infected and totally ignored, it can cause huge problems – not just to your brain, but also other major organs. It can be very debilitating.
‘Always visit the dentist straight away if you have any problems. Usually, you will be administered antibiotics, or the abscess may need to be treated by a root canal specialist.’
Dr Mervyn emphasises how prevention is better than treatment. Regular trips to the dentist are vital, so that any early signs of complications can be spotted.