Many people have questions about the proper use of antibiotics — especially today, as the overuse of these medications has become a concern. It isn’t necessary for most people to take antibiotics before having a dental procedure. But for a few — notably, those with particular heart conditions and, in some cases, joint replacements — pre-medication is advisable. The question may be even more confusing now, because the standard recommendations have recently changed — so let’s try and sort things out.
First, why would anyone need antibiotics before dental treatment? Essentially, it’s because of the chance that an open wound could allow bacteria from the mouth to enter the bloodstream. For people in good health, the body is capable of quickly containing and neutralizing the bacterial exposure. But people with some types of heart disease, heart transplants, and/or total joint replacements have a greater likelihood of developing a bacterial infection, which can be dangerous — or even life-threatening. The same may be true of people whose immune systems are compromised.
At one time, people with a broad range of heart problems and artificial joints were advised to pre-medicate; today, new research indicates that fewer people need to take this step. Antibiotics are currently recommended before dental procedures if you have:
- An artificial heart valve, or a heart valve repaired with artificial material
- A history of endocarditis
- A heart transplant with abnormal heart valve function
- Cyanotic congenital heart disease (a birth defect where blood oxygen levels are lower than normal) that hasn’t been fully repaired — including children with surgical shunts and conduits
- A congenital heart defect that has been completely repaired with artificial material or with a device — but only for the first six months after the repair procedure
- Repaired congenital heart disease with residual defects, such as leakage or abnormal flow
In addition, not everyone who has an artificial joint needs antibiotic premedication. Instead, your health care providers will rely on your individual medical history to determine whether this step is required in your situation. However, having a compromised immune system (due to diabetes, cancer, arthritis, chemotherapy and other factors) is still an indication that antibiotics may be needed.
The question of whether or not to pre-medicate is an important one — so it’s vital that you share all relevant medical information with your doctors and dentists, and make sure everyone is in the loop. That way, the best decisions can be made regarding your treatment.