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Dental Infections in Emergency Medicine Treatment & Management

  • Author: Lynnus F Peng, MD; Chief Editor: Barry E Brenner, MD, PhD, FACEP  more...
Updated: Apr 06, 2016

Emergency Department Care

The source of the dental infection must ultimately be removed or controlled. Pain medication and antibiotics may be given if the patient is not systemically ill and appears to have a simple localized odontogenic infection or abscess.[8, 9]

Igoumenakis et al reported that in odontogenic maxillofacial infections, extraction of the causative tooth is associated with a faster clinical and biological resolution of the infection compared to treatment that did not include extraction.[10]

Localized infections

I&D may be performed if a periapical or periodontal abscess is identified, depending on the physician’s comfort level.

After anesthesia of the tooth, locally or with a dental block, make an incision in the mucosa large enough to accommodate a quarter-inch Penrose drain.

Bluntly dissect the abscess cavity with the tips of a hemostat. Suture in the Penrose drain with a silk suture and leave until suppurative drainage is no longer present (about 2-3 d).

Deep fascial infections

Infections of the neck's deeper fascial layers and masseteric layers have a higher chance of causing impingement on the airway directly or indirectly through extreme trismus.

Tracheostomy was the prior method of choice for establishing the airway; as of recently, management through fiberoptic nasoendotracheal intubation while the patient is awake is preferred.

Various drains and incisions are used for drainage of the affected fascial space.


If the patient appears systemically ill with abnormal vital signs and/or is unable to take oral medication, consider admission with further diagnostic studies and intravenous antibiotics. Infections in the various fascial spaces require incision and drainage (I&D) by the consulting physician.

If airway issues are of concern (eg, Ludwig angina, retropharyngeal abscesses), call an anesthesiologist and otolaryngologist as soon as possible to establish an airway. Ensure that equipment for an emergent cricothyroidotomy is located at the bedside until a secure airway can be established.



See the list below:

  • Oral surgeon
  • Dentist
  • Otolaryngologist
Contributor Information and Disclosures

Lynnus F Peng, MD Assistant Clinical Professor, Department of Anesthesia, University of California at Irvine; Chairman of Anesthesia, Department of Surgery, St Jude Medical Center at Fullerton

Lynnus F Peng, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Society of Anesthesiologists

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


A Antoine Kazzi, MD Deputy Chief of Staff, American University of Beirut Medical Center; Associate Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, American University of Beirut, Lebanon

A Antoine Kazzi, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Willard Peng, DDS, MS Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California

Willard Peng, DDS, MS is a member of the following medical societies: American Dental Association, California Dental Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Rebecca Cheng Loma Linda University School of Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Chief Editor

Barry E Brenner, MD, PhD, FACEP Professor of Emergency Medicine, Professor of Internal Medicine, Program Director for Emergency Medicine, Case Medical Center, University Hospitals, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

Barry E Brenner, MD, PhD, FACEP is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Heart Association, American Thoracic Society, Arkansas Medical Society, New York Academy of Medicine, New York Academy of Sciences, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, American Academy of Emergency Medicine, American College of Chest Physicians, American College of Emergency Physicians, American College of Physicians

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Michael Glick, DMD Dean, University of Buffalo School of Dental Medicine

Michael Glick, DMD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Oral Medicine, American Dental Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Mark W Fourre, MD Associate Clinical Professor, Department of Surgery, University of Vermont School of Medicine; Program Director, Department of Emergency Medicine, Maine Medical Center

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Obvious swelling of the right cheek.
Side view. Fluctuant mass extending toward the buccal side of the gum end to the gingival-buccal reflection.
Gingiva with swelling and erythema.
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