When patients ask what to do about tooth infections, antibiotics may be the wrong answer. They are important but not always the solution.

Dentists have been prescribing antibiotics for ages. But is that the right thing to do when dental problems arise? Maybe. The basis for prescribing antibiotics is the belief that many dental issues are infectious in nature and antibiotics will prevent or minimize pain and other symptoms as well as wipe out the infection. It is clear that symptoms that appear to be relieved by antibiotics are actually resolved by proper dental treatment. In other words, antibiotics may often be unnecessary—and in some cases could be counterproductive—when dental care is what is really called for.

Guidelines issued by the American Dental Association (ADA) state that in most cases antibiotics are not recommended for toothaches. Antibiotics are valuable treatments for other infections, such as a sinus problems or severe throat infections. In dentistry, they can ease symptoms of infection, but they can’t cure the infection itself because when infections are triggered by bacteria inside the teeth, antibiotics cannot get in to the pulp canal spaces to address the source of the infection. The ADA guidelines are based on evidence that adults experiencing a toothache are best served by dental treatment and, if needed, over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Further, antibiotics can cause serious side effects such as allergic reactions, and overuse can result in creating bacterial strains that are resistant to antibiotics.

Why, then, do dentists prescribe antibiotics? And if not antibiotics, what’s the solution?

If your dentist prescribes an antibiotic, it’s generally to relieve an infection’s symptoms and prevent it from turning into something more serious until proper dental treatment can solve the problem. (Sometimes an antibiotic may be prescribed for preventive purposes, i.e., to avert endocarditis, an infection of the lining of the heart.) The pain may decrease or temporarily go away, but since antibiotics don’t penetrate an abscess effectively, the bacteria can linger or return if the cause of the infection isn’t addressed. And once a nerve becomes infected, a root canal treatment is the only way to remove the infected nerve and save the tooth. That’s when an endodontist should get involved.

Endodontists are specialists—skilled professionals specifically trained and dedicated to preserving your teeth. An endodontist can evaluate a dental issue and prescribe a course of action. If a fever is evident, an infection may have spread beyond its original source and an antibiotic is needed. If an infection hasn’t spread, it might be treatable at the source. For instance, a contained toothache probably won’t require antibiotics, but you might need dental treatment, such as a root canal, depending on the severity of the infection.

Antibiotics are extremely important medications, but they must be used properly. If your dentist has referred you to Professional Endodontics or you are searching for an endodontist on your own, we invite you to contact us and learn more about safely eliminating a dental infection. By staying up-to-date on antibiotic use in dental practices, Professional Endodontics provides the safest treatments for our patients. We make sure that the use of antibiotics is necessary before prescribing them. If you have any concerns about the use or misuse of antibiotics, please contact us, we will be happy to answer any questions.

And to minimize the chance of a dental infection, a subsequent abscess, and a root canal procedure—painless as it is—there is a relatively easy step you can take: a routine dental exam every six months. Semiannual checkups with your dentist can help prevent infections from happening in the first place.

About Professional Endodontics

Professional Endodontics has been exceeding the standard of care in Wayne and Macomb counties for over 50 years.  The team specializes in treating issues with the inside of the tooth and goes out of its way to provide a safe easy environment for patients. Each member of the practice is dedicated to providing excellence in patient care and values high-quality relationships with referring dentists and specialists.  Each endodontist at Professional Endodontics has been individually chosen as Hour Detroit Magazine’s Best Dentists.  Thanks to contemporary advances in endodontics, Professional Endodontics is able to use innovative technology to treat and save teeth that have suffered damage to the soft tissue within the roots of the tooth.

Professional Endodontics offers state-of-the-art facilities in Clarkston, Clinton Township, St. Clair Shores, and Southfield.  All locations offer the latest in advanced dental delivery systems, microscopy, and digital radiography.

6803 Dixie Highway
Suite 3
Clarkston, MI 48346
(248) 358-2910

29201 Telegraph Road
Suite 110
Southfield, MI 48034
(248) 358-2910

Clinton Township
Henry Ford Hospital Medical Pavilion
16151 19 Mile Rd, Suite 101
Clinton Township, MI 48038
(586) 286-7000

St. Clair Shores
St. Clair Professional Plaza
23829 Little Mack, Suite 300
St. Clair Shores, MI 48080
(586) 779-9690