You've likely been told time and time again that maintaining oral hygiene is critical to your overall health. But it's true — untreated dental decay can lead to severe health complications. According to StatPearls, Ludwig's angina is a rare but serious and rapidly progressing bacterial infection that affects the floor of the mouth and the neck. It is a life-threatening condition that should be treated by a medical professional as soon as possible. Luckily, with routine dental visits, your dental professional can identify and treat tooth decay early, before it worsens.
StatPearls explains that in 9 out of 10 cases, the lower molars are the source of this severe infection. When a lower tooth suffers from dental decay or an injury, bacteria can infect the inner portion of the tooth and form an abscess. If left untreated, the infection can spread from the tooth to the surrounding areas. The bacteria do not like being trapped, and the germs eventually begin to search for an exit path, resulting in the invasion of the nearby areas along the floor of the mouth. Ludwig's angina occurs when the soft tissues in the floor of the mouth and neck become severely infected.
Individuals with diabetes, cavities or a weak immune system may be at a higher risk of developing this serious condition, notes StatPearls.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
As the condition progresses, the infected tissues will swell, and the neck may appear enlarged. A patient may experience pain, sore throat, trouble swallowing, fever and chills in addition to the extensive swelling, reports StatPearls.
The Mayo Clinic states that the most concerning symptom of this condition is obstruction of a patient's airway. If the swelling continues toward the back of the throat, the airway might begin to close and make it difficult or impossible to breathe. Unfortunately, if the airway becomes obstructed, the chances of fatality increase. Historically, prior to the use of antibiotics, the mortality rate of Ludwig's angina exceeded 50 percent.
To diagnose the infection, a medical professional will evaluate the appearance of the swelling and may take CT scans or blood tests to evaluate the severity of the condition, according to StatPearls. They will begin treatment immediately and take measures to ensure the patient is able to breathe.
The medical professional will likely offer antibiotics through an IV to cure the infection, reports StatPearls. They may also need to extract the infected tooth. If the infection has resulted in fluid collection in the tissue, it may also be necessary for the medical professional to drain the tissue with an incision.
The sooner the infection is treated, the greater the likelihood of survival. According to StatPearls, with antibiotic therapy, the mortality rate for this condition is only 8 percent.
Preventing Dental Infections
The best defense against an aggressive oral infection, such as Ludwig's angina, is maintaining optimal oral hygiene practices at home. This includes good nutrition and biannual visits to your dental professional. Daily brushing and flossing will not only freshen your breath and brighten your smile, but they will decrease the likelihood of a painful or urgent dental infection.
Consult your dental professional if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, especially if you are having trouble breathing or exhibiting a fever. Early detection and treatment could save your life.