Patient's Dangerous Bacterial Infection Linked to Teeth Cleaning

The unidentified patient had to remain in hospital for weeks for treatment.

— -- A Pennsylvania man acquired rare and dangerous infection after undergoing a routine teeth cleaning at the dentist, according to a published case report.

The rare medical case was published in the BMJ Case Reports journal today. The 57-year-old unidentified patient was admitted to the Sacred Heart Hospital in Allentown, Pennsylvania, after experiencing abdominal pain for at least 10 days and developing a high fever and increased heart rate. When doctors did an MRI, they found a large cyst on his liver.

Dr. Faton Bytyci, family medicine resident and the lead author on the study, said when he saw the cyst he suspected it was due to a bacterial infection. After removing material from the cyst, doctors made a surprising discovery: The patient tested positive for Fusobacterium necrophorum, a bacteria that is naturally occurring in the mouth, but rarely causes infections in major organs.

The patient was put on intravenous antibiotics and eventually recovered, though his fever persisted for days.

Bytyci said the big mystery was how the bacterial infection started.

"It gets into blood circulation and then lands into one of the big organs," Bytyci said, explaining how the bacteria starts to infect an organ. "I was trying to figure out where it was coming from."

He explained the most common sources of infection is injury to the colon or large bowels, a throat abscess, or an already existing heart infection.

However, Bytyci did tests to find signs of infection in all three sites and was left stumped. Eventually a simple conversation with the patient led him to his top lead.

"He was here for one week, we were talking ... he said, 'I saw my dentist like two weeks ago,'" Bytyci recalled. "Then I was like, that would be one [source of infection]."

Bytyci said after doing further examinations they believe the dental cleaning may have caused some trauma in the mouth that allowed the Fusobacterium necrophorum to get into the blood stream and cause an infection.