How a Tooth Infection Killed a 26-Year-Old Father

He was far too young — but his sad case has critical lessons for the rest of us

Total organ failure and death. That’s what resulted this week after a 26-year-old father of two experienced a common tooth infection that spread quickly to his lungs and his bloodstream.

Vadim Kondratyuk died on Monday, Jan. 30, at a hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah. He left behind his 22-year-old wife, Nataliya Kondratyuk, and their two daughters, two-year-old Vanessa and 11-month-old Maya.

Kondratyuk was a truck driver. He stopped on his normal route from Antelope, California, to Rochester, New York, to get a toothache checked. The dentist in Oklahoma City treated the tooth and prescribed antibiotics. But by the time Kondratyuk reached Rochester, he was in too much pain to drive back alone. His brother joined him on the trip to make sure he arrived safely.

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He never made it back to California. After just a few days, the pain had become so unbearable he checked himself into a hospital in Utah, where he continued to deteriorate.

“It’s going to be hard with both my kids without a husband,” Nataliya Kondratyuk told KCRA News. “Half of me is just taken away.”

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A recent Gallup-Healthways poll showed that more than one-third of Americans skip routine dental visits each year. Not only can neglect of oral hygiene lead to more expensive fixes later, it can also lead to serious and even life-threatening health complications. As antibiotics lose their effectiveness, more and more people are contracting superbugs that medicines can no longer beat. Around 18,000 Americans die each year from an antibiotic-resistant staph infection called MRSA.

Related: The Golden Age of Antibiotics is Over

Though there is some risk of cases like this young man’s becoming more common, they are still rare. “Tooth infections are fairly common and are usually painful, but rarely, in a developed world context, do they progress to the severity of this case,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert at the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. But she cautioned, “Any tooth infection has the possibility to progress to a systemic infection and should be dealt with aggressively via a dental visit.”

Questions remain about the Kondratyuk case. His infection could have been resistant to antibiotics — but it may also have been due to incomplete dental care. “Antibiotic resistance can worsen any infection,” said Adalja, then speculated: “In a case such as this, perhaps a failure to achieve source control by removing the tooth and cleaning the infection site was to blame, as the bacteria that cause dental infection are largely sensitive to ordinary antibiotics.”

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Problems such as this usually begin with a cavity, which then decays to an abscess or infection between the tooth and gums. If this abscess reaches the bone marrow, it can turn septic and become fatal.

Some 60,000 Americans were hospitalized for tooth infections between 2000 and 2008, according to a 2013 study in the Journal of Endodontics. About one in every 1,000 of those patients dies. While nobody enjoys going to the dentist, putting off visits is too much of a risk to take.

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