Risks of dependence on antibiotics for dental pain

Introduction - Dental pain and antibiotics, the real deal

We all go through dental pain at one point in our life. Whether it is due to tooth decay, gum infection, or injury, treatment will eventually be needed. Without treatment, bacteria in the teeth can cause a severe infection that could possibly spread to a larger area of the teeth and gums or lead to dental abscess.

While there are a number of treatments that a dentist will recommend, antibiotics are often used - specifically Amoxycillin or Azithromycin. Antibiotics for dental pain should only be given if the infection is so severe that it has spread from the tooth to its surrounding tissues. Antibiotics will therefore cure the infection and allow the dentist to proceed with extraction of tooth, root canal treatment, or any other treatment that they deem appropriate to the case of the patient.

However, some dentists still routinely prescribe oral antibiotics to patients who don’t even show signs of a spreading infection, and then do not proceed to a dental treatment to remove the infected material. This is the downside of antibiotics being given for tooth infection.

The problem with antibiotics for tooth infections

The first action most patients take when they feel a toothache is to schedule a visit to their dentist. Once the dentist examines the patient and identifies the problem, there are two ways to go: either the dentist will recommend a treatment and schedule a procedure to tackle the problem and treat it the right way - in some cases, if the infection has spread, the first step will be to treat it with Amoxycillin or Azithromycin before the procedure; or the dentist will prescribe an antibiotic (even though not needed).

In the latter case, patients will usually feel that the pain has subsided and will not move on to the procedure part of the treatment. This will lead the dental problem to be recurrent every few months. Therefore, the problem will become bigger and harder to treat. Also, the use of antibiotics every single time might contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which will lead to the tooth problem not being resolved and getting even more complicated to treat.

Effects of overusing antibiotics for tooth infections

While it is true that antibiotics are usually common and safe to treat dental infections, and that they can have benefits when it comes to dental pain - like eliminating the concern that the infection could spread, or when a patient has a weakened immune system - they might cause some side effects.

Here are the most common side effects of antibiotics for tooth infection:

• Gastrointestinal discomfort, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain and excessive bloating.
• Rashes and allergies. Some people discover an allergy to amoxycillin by starting a treatment. A patient should therefore pay attention to how they are feeling in order to catch the allergy early and stop the treatment right away.
• Neutropenia, which is a condition where you have a low number of white blood cells called neutrophils in your blood. This weakens your immune system and makes it harder for your body to fight infections.  
• A change in taste is sometimes reported by some patients who are going through antibiotics treatments.

Key Takeaways: Are antibiotics the only solution for tooth infection?

Antibiotics for tooth infection can surely help ease the symptoms, especially if the infection has spread. However, they cannot cure the dental problem on their own. The source of the problem has to be treated, in addition to antibiotics, if they are necessary. Since tooth infection comes from cavity, trauma, or dental procedures like fillings and crowns, your tooth structure will need to be properly protected and treated. Otherwise, the recurrent tooth problem can affect your immune system in the long run and become potentially life-threatening if completely neglected.

In the case your dentist prescribes antibiotics, it would be to primarily prevent the infection from spreading and until they could solve the problem with a proper treatment. If the problem is not addressed properly after the antibiotics period, the bacteria can linger or return. To prevent a minor tooth problem becoming a major issue, a routine dental exam every 6 months is recommended to prevent dental infections from happening in the first place.

Keeping in mind antibiotics will only mask the problem until you have something done about it, it is important you find a dental clinic near you and have regular check-ups.

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