Unnecessary antibiotics for toothache

In the United Kingdom (U.K.) over half of all patients who visited their general practitioner (GP) with a dental problem in the last 10 years were not offered a long term treatment for their pain and instead were prescribed antibiotics. Some of these antibiotics were unnecessarily given. In a 10 year retrospective study published in the British Journal of General Practice researchers examined dental consultations and the resultant number of antibiotics prescriptions.

The study found many patients are visiting their general practitioner rather than seeing their dentist, and that over half of these consultations resulted in antibiotics being prescribed. Many dental problems cannot be managed by a GP and this places an unnecessary burden on busy GPs. A severe toothache often needs an extraction or root canal which can only be undertaken by a dentist.

The researchers were alarmed about the large amount of antibiotics being prescribed. This raises concerns about the UK’s long term dental health and the potential contribution to antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic drug resistance, which occurs when bacterial infections no longer respond to antibiotics is problematic for developed countries. Antibiotics carries a risk of adverse reaction and is likely to increase the number of medical consultations for dental conditions in the future.

The researchers are not clear why so many patients were seeing GPs instead of dentists right away for their dental problems. Hopefully patients in the U.K. can see their dentists more often and get the proper treatment. Continuing in the path of prescribing antibiotics unnecessarily to patients will create many problems for the health care system in the future.

A. L. Cope, I. G. Chestnutt, F. Wood, N. A. Francis. Dental consultations in UK general practice and antibiotic prescribing rates: a retrospective cohort study. British Journal of General Practice, 2016.

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