A Maine teenager died from an infection by so-called "flesh-eating bacteria" days after a routine dental procedure to have his wisdom teeth removed, officials said.
Benjamin LaMontagne succumbed to a rare, aggressive bacterial infection known as cervical necrotizing fasciitis that caused swelling of his jaw and neck.
The infection was the result of a powerful variation of streptococcus A commonly referred to as "flesh-eating bacteria." The bacteria attacks muscles, skin and fat and can lead to toxic shock and organ failure. It is often found on the skin and in the throat.
Several kinds of bacteria present in the throat can cause fasciitis infections, although cases are considered extremely rare since most infections involving group A strep can be easily treated, experts said.
Between 650 to 800 cases of necrotizing fasciitis involving group A strep are reported in the United States annually, figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show, although the CDC says those numbers possibly underestimate the actual incidence.
LaMontagne died four days after having four impacted wisdom teeth removed on Feb. 19, according to a medical examiner's report released Thursday in response to a public records request.
"I have not heard of anything like that, with necrotizing fasciitis as a result of routine oral surgery extractions," infection control expert John Molinari with the American Dental Association said.
Oral surgeons and dentists follow rigorous protocols designed to limit infections, including using sterilized instruments and wearing masks, gloves and eyewear, he said.
"That takes care of, typically, the overwhelming majority of anything than can happen," he said. "I'm surprised to hear that it happened."
Four days after the surgery, LaMontagne's mother called 911 to when she discovered her son had apparently stopped breathing. Emergency personnel were unable to revive him and pronounced him dead at his home in Long Island, a small town near Portland.
An accomplished musician on wind instruments including saxophone, clarinet and bassoon, LaMontagne had been a member of the National Honor Society, was studying at the Portland Conservatory of Music in Maine and had been planning to attend Pennsylvania's Sunderman Conservatory of Music at Gettysburg College, where he had been awarded a merit scholarship.
Members of the local community had expressed feelings of loss after hearing of LaMonagne's death.
"I know he's not my son, but I feel like I watched him grow up," said Julia Frothingham, who taught LaMontagne on clarinet for six years at the local high school. "I'll miss not being able to see where he goes from here."