The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that antibiotic resistance is one of the world’s most pressing public health problems. According to the CDC, an estimated 50 percent of antibiotic prescription use in hospitals is inappropriate or unnecessary.(1)
Other studies have found that dentists also may prescribe antibiotics unnecessarily.(2-3) During “Talk About Prescriptions Month,” Delta Dental advises people to be responsible about how they use antibiotics.
Antibiotics are powerful medicines that fight bacterial infections. They work by killing bacteria or preventing them from reproducing until the body’s immune system can fight off the rest of the infection. When prescribed and taken correctly, their value in helping cure or prevent the spread of disease is significant. Contrary to popular belief, antibiotics do not fight infections caused by viruses such as the common cold, flu and bronchitis.
Every time a person takes antibiotics, sensitive bacteria are killed, but resistant germs may be left to grow and multiply. These resistant germs can then be spread to others and over time, an antibiotic resistant strain of bacteria can become a community problem. Repeated and improper uses of antibiotics are primary causes of the increase in drug-resistant bacteria.
Dentists mainly prescribe antibiotics for the management of infections in and around the mouth, which are usually caused by bacteria. They are sometimes used after oral surgery as a preventive measure or to treat a toothache. Most common dental infections take the form of a toothache and require some type of treatment, like a filling, root canal therapy, or tooth extraction. Antibiotics cannot cure a toothache and are not always necessary after routine oral surgery.
Individuals who are taking antibiotics should keep a few things in mind:
• Take the entire prescription: Even if your condition is improving and you feel cured, finish the prescription. If you stop too soon, some bacteria can survive and reinfect.
• Only take antibiotics to treat a bacterial infection: People instinctively want to take medication to make them feel better, even if they just have the flu or common cold. Antibiotics only work on bacteria, however, and the common cold is usually a virus.
• Don’t save the bottle for future reuse: Antibiotics degrade when they are stored for months at a time, rendering them ineffective. Check with your pharmacy for appropriate disposal of expired medications.
• Don’t share your antibiotics with others: Antibiotics are prescribed for specific purposes. Your doctor will typically check for potential adverse interactions or drug allergies before prescribing.
1 “Antibiotics: Will they work when you really need them?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/getsmart/campaign-materials/week/downloads/factsheet-Monday-GetSmart-week.pdf. Accessed September 2012.
2 Zadik Y and Levn L. Clinical Decision Making in Restorative Dentistry, Endodontics, and Antibiotic Prescription. Journal of Dental Education January 1, 2008 vol. 72 no. 1 81-86
3 Dar-Odeh NS, Abu-Hammad OA, et.al. Antibiotic prescribing practices by dentists: a review. Ther Clin Risk Manag. 2010; 6: 301–306.