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When Might You Need Antibiotics for a Toothache?

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When you have a toothache or dental condition and are at the peak of dental pain, how can you find relief? In some cases, your dentist may prescribe an antibiotic. It may seem odd to take the same medicine for a toothache that you might take for a respiratory or ear condition. However, all infections‚ even those in the mouth, have something in common: they are caused by germs. That said, not all dental conditions require antibiotics, so your dentist will decide when it's appropriate to prescribe antibiotics for a toothache.

Germs and Tooth Cavities

To understand why your dentist might prescribe antibiotics for a toothache, you must first understand how germs contribute to tooth cavities and toothaches. Without regular, twice-daily brushing with proper technique, the germs in your mouth can grow and turn the foods you eat into acid that then gets deposited on your teeth. This promotes cavity formation and tooth decay. As the South African Dental Association (SADA) explains, having sugar throughout the day increases the risk of developing tooth decay. This is because your teeth come under attack from germs that break down the tooth structure. The type of germ that primarily causes cavities is Streptococcus mutans, as a study in PLOS ONE (a peer-reviewed open access scientific journal published by the US-based Public Library of Science) notes.

Common Toothache Causes and Treatments

When germs break down a tooth's surface, forming a cavity, the inner chamber of the tooth becomes vulnerable. This inner chamber contains the nerves that supply your tooth with sensation. When germs reach this chamber, it can be painful and lead to more severe dental problems that may require antibiotic treatment.

SADA mentions several possible reasons for toothache, including hot or cold foods, the grinding of teeth, loss of fillings or crowns, and an injury to teeth or gums. The US-based Merck Manuals adds cavities, affected pulp tissue and dental abscesses to the list. Having a cavity in a tooth does not necessarily mean that you will need antibiotics. As the United States Mayo Clinic explains, cavities are often treated with fillings, or possibly crowns, based on how much of the tooth is infected. When a tooth infection reaches the nerve of the tooth, it may require a root canal and a protective cover to seal germs out of the tooth. Additionally, if a tooth is so broken down by a cavity that it can't be repaired, the dentist may need to extract the tooth.

When Does a Toothache Require Antibiotics?

When the dental condition is severe or impacts the gum around an erupting tooth, your dentist may recommend antibiotics. For instance, pericoronitis is a swelling in the gum tissue that can develop around impacted wisdom teeth, as Merck Manuals explains. Patients with this condition may be given antibiotics as part of their treatment.

Additionally, if your dentist notices signs of a dental abscess‚ a tooth condition that can develop from an untreated cavity, they may recommend antibiotics.

Taking Antibiotics for Oral Conditions

For dental conditions, dentists will often prescribe penicillin or amoxicillin, explains Merck Manuals. Clindamycin is also a commonly prescribed alternative for those allergic to penicillin. Your dentist will be sure to identify the right dose and duration of medication for your particular situation. Because over-prescription of antibiotics can sometimes lead to more resistant strains of germs, your dentist will also take antibiotic resistance into consideration when they prescribe your dose, as the American Dental Association (ADA) explains.

It's important to take the full course of pills exactly as your dentist prescribes for the best outcome. Just remember, even if the pain resolves, you'll likely still need further treatment to fully restore your tooth.

Toothache Prevention

There are many ways to prevent a toothache, as the National Health Service explains. Following these steps can help you reduce your risk of cavities or a toothache:

  • Limit your frequency and intake of sugary foods and drinks.
  • Brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice daily to decrease the sugar and germs accumulation on your teeth.
  • Floss between your teeth to prevent cavities from forming where your teeth touch.
  • Maintain regular check-up appointments so that your dentist can continue monitoring your risk of cavity formation.

You can take steps to help prevent cavities and tooth conditions. However, if you already have one, know that your dentist has your best interests in mind if they prescribe you antibiotics for a toothache.

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