Ready for anything, including sepsis


  Posted by: The Probe      1st August 2020

As dental hygienists and dental therapists, we are known in the profession for building strong relationships with our patients. This is often the result of our passion for patient care and our focus on oral health promotion and education. As a result of services and therapies we provide, many patients will see us more regularly than their dentists, which means we need to be ready to identify and report anything that might be a cause for concern.

Aside from screening for potential oral health problems, it is also important that we are aware of the symptoms of sepsis. As such a dangerous yet difficult to diagnose condition, sounding the alarm as early as possible can make a huge difference to the success of treatment and recovery for the patient.

Signs and symptoms

Sepsis – sometimes referred to as blood poisoning – occurs when the immune system reacts to an infection too aggressively and starts to attack the body’s own cells. This can happen in response to infection with bacteria, viruses or fungi. Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to identify because its symptoms are diverse and common.[i] For adults, the most important include:

  • Confusion, slurred speech or not making sense
  • Blue, pale or blotchy skin, lips or tongue
  • A rash that does not fade when a glass is pressed onto it
  • Difficulty breathing, breathlessness or breathing very fast

For babies or young children, the symptoms are even more vague:

  • Blue, pale or blotchy skin, lips or tongue
  • A rash that does not fade when a glass is pressed onto it
  • Difficulty breathing (grunting noises or a stomach sucking sound under the ribcage), breathlessness or breathing very fast
  • A weak, high-pitched cry that is unlike their normal cry
  • Responding differently to normal, or simply not interested in feeding or other regular activities
  • Sleepier than normal or difficult to wake up

Minimising the risks

If detected early – before any vital organs have been affected – sepsis can be managed simply and effectively with antibiotics. The majority of people therefore recover fully. Severe sepsis or septic shock require immediate admittance to hospital as medical emergencies. Sadly, approximately 29% of people who develop sepsis die in the UK.[ii] The risk of developing sepsis is highest for those most vulnerable to infection, including babies and young children, women after childbirth, those with compromised immune systems, anyone aged over 60 and people recovering from surgery. [iii], [iv]

This only goes to emphasise the importance of early detection. With World Sepsis Day held in September, this is a good opportunity to refresh your knowledge in the area. Though rare in the dental practice, being able to provide the right information to patients when appropriate and to confidently identify (or rule-out) suspicious signs or symptoms, could literally mean the difference between life or death for someone.

Another arrow to your bow

Dental hygienists and dental therapists today can support patients in many different ways. The rapport we build often means that patients feel comfortable with us and therefore share more personal details than they might with other healthcare professionals. It’s our job to be as prepared as we can and that includes being confident with the signs and symptoms of sepsis.

For more information about the BSDHT, please visit,

call 01788 575050 or email



[i] NHS. Health A to Z. Sepsis. Symptoms. [Accessed May 2020]

[ii] Bray A., Kampouraki E., Winter A., Jesuthasan A., Messer B., Graziadio S. High variability in sepsis guidelines in UK: why does it matter? International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2020; 17(6): 2026. April 7, 2020.

[iii] NICE. Resource impact report: sepsis: the recognition, diagnosis and early management (NG51). National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. 2016. April 7, 2020.

[iv] Lin G., McGinley J., Drysdale S., Pollard A. Epidemiology and immune pathogenesis of viral sepsis. Frontiers in Immunology. 2018; 9: 2147. April 7, 2020.

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