What to know about antibiotics and tooth infections

When an infection occurs, it causes a pocket of pus to form in the mouth as a result of an overgrowth of bacteria. This infection often causes swelling, pain, and sensitivity in the area. Without treatment, the infection may spread to other areas of the jaw or even the brain.

Dental decay and cavities are very common. As one article notes, up to 91% of adults ages 20–64 have cavities. Also, around 27% of people in the same age group have untreated tooth decay. Treating tooth decay early is important to prevent complications such as tooth infections.

Anyone who experiences a tooth infection should see a dentist right away to prevent the infection from spreading.

One of the first things a dentist will likely recommend is an antibiotic to kill the infection. Some antibiotics work better than others for tooth infections, and there may also be some over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications to help with the symptoms.

When to use antibiotics for a tooth infection

Dentists will typically only recommend antibiotics in dentistry for tooth infections. However, not all infected teeth require antibiotics.

In some cases, a dentist may simply be able to drain the infected area, remove the infected tooth, or perform a root canal to fix the issue.

They tend to avoid recommending antibiotics unless they are absolutely necessary, such as when the infection is severe or spreading, or if a person has a weakened immune system.

How long do they take to work?

How long each antibiotic takes to work varies depending on many factors, such as the severity of the infection and how effectively the drug eliminates the infectious bacteria.

It is important for people to complete a full round of antibiotics, taking all of the prescribed medication exactly how the dentist says to take it. Although a person may begin to notice their symptoms go away after a couple of doses, completing the full round of antibiotics helps prevent the infection from coming back or getting stronger.

As the International Dental Journal study notes, the majority of acute infections resolve in 3–7 days.

Side effects

Although antibiotics can help clear up an infection to prepare a person for dental work, these drugs do have some possible side effects.

The side effects can vary with each type of drug. It is important to discuss any possible side effects from taking a drug with a doctor before moving forward with that particular treatment.

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