A 62-year-old man with a background of type 2 diabetes mellitus presented to the emergency department (ED) with a 5-day history of dental pain, progressive right facial swelling, trismus, dysphagia and voice changes. The oropharynx could not be directly examined completely due to trismus. The patient had a National Early Warning Score of 0 and so was triaged into the ‘minors’ section of ED. Following assessment by the on-call oral and maxillofacial surgeon, an urgent contrast-enhanced CT demonstrated a large parapharyngeal collection, which required urgent anaesthetic and surgical intervention. The patient developed pulmonary complications postoperatively, but eventually made a full recovery.