Antibiotic resistance and dentistry – should you be worried?

Has a dentist ever prescribed you with an antibiotic? If yes, then have you ever thought about the consequences? We’re not talking about side effects of antibiotics, but rather the phenomenon known as antibiotic resistance. Scientists believe that antibiotic resistance could prove to be very important in the years to come.

Why should I care about antibiotic resistance?

Antibiotics were invented in the early 20th century, and since then they’ve prevented millions of deaths. This is because they are fantastic at stopping infection.

But imagine a future where antibiotics no longer work. Many routine operations would become dangerous. You could even die from simply pricking your finger while gardening. What’s more, treatments such as organ transplants and chemotherapy would be impossible, since these treatments require antibiotics.

What’s scary is that antibiotic resistance just isn’t a problem of the future. In the words of the World Health Organisation, “it is happening right now in every region of the world”. According to the BBC, so-called ‘super bugs’ are already responsible for 700,000 deaths worldwide each year.

How does antibiotic resistance happen?

Antibiotics don’t kill 100% of bacteria; some bacteria are just naturally immune. This wasn’t a problem until doctors started giving out antibiotics left, right and centre. The antibiotics kill all the weak bacteria but suddenly, the few resistant bacteria have the environment all to themselves. They’re free to multiply and create more resistant bacteria. Over the years, antibiotic resistance then becomes more and more commonplace in the environment, until nearly all the bacteria are resistant. Essentially, by using antibiotics, we are ‘training’ bacteria to become resistant.

Where do dentists come into this?

Dentists have an important role to play because around 10% of antibiotic prescriptions come from dentists.

Dentists prescribe antibiotics for things like dental abscesses and gum disease. But often, the prescriptions are unnecessary. According to one study, many doctors overprescribe patients with antibiotics because they just don’t know enough about them.

What can I do to prevent antibiotic resistance?

Feeling like you want to help? Here’s a few ways you can help prevent an antibiotic apocalypse:

  • If you have toothache, then don’t self-medicate with antibiotics. Firstly, any self-medication is dangerous. Secondly, your toothache might not be due to an infection, which means antibiotics wouldn’t help. Thirdly, dentists can sometimes treat infections without antibiotics, thus helping to avoid antibiotic resistance.
  • If your dentist wants to give you an antibiotic, ask her if it’s really necessary.
  • If the antibiotic is necessary, then take it exactly as the dentist tells you to. Don’t give it to your sick family or friends.
  • Return unused antibiotics to a pharmacy to prevent them from getting into the environment.
  • Show you support by signing Public Health England’s Antibiotic Guardianship pledge.

Here at S A Benton Dental, we’re taking measures to fight antibiotic resistance. For example, we audit our antibiotic prescriptions so we can check whether our prescriptions are really necessary. So, rest assured that we’re doing our part to prevent antibiotic resistance. But are you?