It is not unusual, even today, to have patients ask for an antibiotic for a tooth ache or dental infection.
But I think most people these days know that antibiotics are losing some of their effectiveness and usefulness. Many of my patients have allergies to one or more antibiotics. And in the news we hear of drug resistant bacteria causing serious infections that we have no drugs to help us fight. What has brought us to this point? Well, it's because antibiotics have been over used. Here's the thing. Antibiotics don't cure infections. Patients cure themselves. Antibiotics give your natural defense mechanisms a chance to catch up.
Ultimately it is essential to remove the cause or source of any infection. As much as 60% of infections in the human body are resolved by the body's own defenses without antibiotics. We just need to remove the cause of these infections. This means a root canal or extraction of a tooth that is infected is what is needed to let the body heal itself. Gum infections ( periodontal/gum disease) may require a deep cleaning also to remove the bacteria and allow healing. When these infections are localized to these kind of small areas we usually do not need antibiotics. But, when immediate curative action such as these cannot be taken or the infection is too diffuse or spread out to determine the cause, antibiotics are needed. Especially when a fever results from a dental infection.
When prescribed, antibiotics for oral infections need to be taken for the shortest time needed for a patient to get better and the body to heal itself, as long as the cause has adequately been dealt with. Oral infections usually only last two to seven days and there is no absolute rule for how long an antibiotic needs to be used...it's the healing that is important. So while we tend to prescribe antibiotics for 5-10 daysit can be less or more.
Today, where possible we need to prescribe antibiotics less and deal with the "root causes" of dental infections so we can save antibiotic effectiveness for more critical health matters. And a big part of that is patient education. Patients need to understand that an antibiotic isn't always needed.
Remember, great things start with a warm, healthy smile!