Lethal Toothache: Parapharyngeal Cellulitis Complicating Dental Infection

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Three patients with parapharyngeal cellulitis arising from dental infection were seen by the Medical Service over a period of ten months. Respiratory distress and/or pharyngeal discomfort prompted all patients to seek medical aid. The extent of infection within the parapharyngeal space, the potential for life-threatening complications, and the significance of the dental lesions were not appreciated initially in all cases. Despite early antibiotic therapy, one patient died and one incurred severe neurologic sequelae. Early recognition, use of antibiotics effective against anaerobic bacteria, and prompt surgical drainage are mandatory to prevent considerable morbidity and mortality. Control of the airway is the most important therapeutic maneuver leading to a favorable outcome.

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