Dental Industry Sepsis Campaign

Preventable deaths: an exploration of sepsis to develop clinical understanding and improve practice.


Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening condition previously known as blood-poisoning and septicaemia. It is an overreaction to an infection in which the body attacks its own tissues and organs. Sepsis claims 44,000 lives in the UK and affects more than 250,000 people every year. However, the good news is that sepsis can be treated effectively with antibiotics and other therapies if caught promptly. Sepsis is usually, though not exclusively, triggered by a bacterial infection. This may from a chest, urinary or dental infection, a problem in the abdomen such as a perforated ulcer or bowel, or an infected cut, bite or wound (UK Sepsis Trust 2018).

Recognition and resuscitation of patients with sepsis is time-critical and, too frequently, can be poor, causing high mortality rates. Antibiotic stewardship has changed thinking about prescribing antibiotics, but in patients with sepsis, the rapid delivery of broad—spectrum antibiotics within the first hour is crucial in maximising survival (NIHR, 2017).

It is your duty as a healthcare professional to recognise the triggers and act promptly on findings.

So, what are the triggers? What are you looking for?


Sepsis is an unpredictable illness that progresses quickly. As the symptoms can at first be similar to those in flu, a chest or dental infection, or gastroenteritis, it can be difficult to diagnose.

A structured approach is needed to determine whether further medical help is needed. NICE have worked with the UK Sepsis Trust to launch pathways for the identification of sepsis, but the key message is to empower our pubic to ‘Just ask: could it be Sepsis?’ in someone who is obviously unwell and who’s showing symptoms that indicate possible infection (NICE Guideline 51, 2016). It is crucial to listen to patients and relatives and not to dismiss their concerns about deterioration. Some of these warning signs, known as Red Flags (UK Sepsis Trust, 2015) are listed below in the symptom box. The UK Sepsis Trust have some excellent clinical sepsis support tools on their website which can be used in primary dental services for both adults and children (The UK Sepsis Trust 2018).

If you’re concerned about any patient who looks unwell in the context of an infection call 111 or make an appointment with their GP and to ‘Just ask: could it be Sepsis?’.


If they also have one of the symptoms below, dial 999 to ensure their urgent transport for hospital assessment:


  • Slurred speech or confusion
  • Extreme shivering or muscle pain
  • Passed no urine in a day
  • Severe breathlessness
  • Illness so bad they fear they are dying
  • Skin mottled or discoloured


  • Is breathing very fast
  • Has a ‘fit’ or convulsion
  • Looks mottled, bluish or pale
  • Has a rash that does not fade when you press it
  • Is very lethargic or difficult to wake
  • Feels abnormally cold to touch
  • Follow the link to learn more: website

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