If you have a tooth infection, or a tooth abscess, you may be given a prescription for an antibiotic. These tooth infections are important to treat, because uncontrolled, they can spread to close off breathing passages or spread to the brain. There are various types of antibiotics used for oral infections.
It is important to note that when treating a tooth infection, antibiotics used alone will not cure the problem. In fact, it will most likely make it worse unless it is accompanied by eliminating the source of the infection. The reason is that the antibiotic cannot get inside an infected tooth. This tissue will almost always be dead if the tooth is abscessed. That means that there is no blood circulation, no white blood cells, and no way to get the antibiotic to the source of the infection. So it is a constant battle with the bacteria that are leaking into your bone from the inside of the tooth. The best you can do with an antibiotic combined with your body defenses is to weaken the infection. And then an interesting thing happens—the bacteria tend to develop resistance to the antibiotic. So when the infection comes back, as it always does, you will have bacteria that are now more resistant to the antibiotic. It isn’t hard to see how this could be a potentially very dangerous situation, as this is the type of infection that could get out of control.
In the case of some upper teeth, control of the infection is needed before your dentist can get the tooth numb. An area of infection has a low pH, but local anesthetic has a high pH. So the infection will neutralize the anesthetic. In the upper jaw, the dentist usually has to inject the local anesthetic directly over the root of the tooth. If this area is infected, the anesthetic won’t work. If the tissue inside the tooth is dead, this probably won’t matter, if you’re getting a root canal treatment. But if the treatment is extraction, the infection will need to be controlled before the extraction can be done.
Instructions for taking your antibiotics
Here are some sample instructions for a patient if you have a prescription for erythromycin, cephalosporin, penicillin, clindamycin, or tetracycline (the antibiotics commonly prescribed by dentists).
- Please take all of the antibiotic for the prescribed length of time.
- Be sure to follow through with the recommended treatment for your tooth in the recommended time frame, so that you don’t complicate your health problems.
- If you accidentally miss a dose, double up on the next dose.
- Some of these powerful antibiotics (particularly clindamycin), because they kill the bacteria in your digestive tract, may cause digestive disturbances. There may not be any way to avoid this and still accomplish the objective of eradicating the infection. However, if digestive problems become hard to endure, let your dentist know, and it may be desirable to switch to a different medication.
- VERY IMPORTANT—If your symptoms have not been gone for three whole days when your medication has run out, be sure to let your dentist know, so that he or she can extend the prescription and thus avoid a relapse.
- Women taking birth control medications need to realize that taking antibiotics makes the birth control medication less reliable for the duration of your current period.
- These antibiotics can also cause allergic reactions in some people. Advise your dental office and discontinue taking it if you have any itching or rash develop from taking it.
—Dr. David Hall
Other related topics:
Read about root canal treatment.
Read about what to do for an infected wisdom tooth.
An oral yeast infection requires a completely different type of antibiotic. For that you will be given a prescription for an anti-fungal agent such as nystatin.
A gum infection may not respond to medication at all, if it is from chronic gum disease, especially if it not accompanied by thorough mechanical cleaning of the root surface, where the tartar and other irritants that cause the gum disease are located.