You’ve probably seen in the news over the past few months that, as a nation, we are becoming more resilient towards antibiotics. Our bodies are basically getting used to us taking them, and therefore they aren’t as effective in treating what they’re supposed to.
Now with teeth, it’s an entirely different reason as to why we’re reluctant to hand them over. Obviously, we don’t want you to become unresponsive to any antibiotics we give you, but we usually don’t like to give them for one reason: Antibiotics don’t cure toothache.
We have a lot of patients come in with a raging toothache, asking for some magic pills to get them out of pain, and if we can, we always try and find a way to cure the problem without the pills. This is because antibiotics won’t cure the problem, only mask it.
If you imagine, you’ve got a tooth that has a hole in it. It’s slowly being eaten away by some decay, but because it’s not giving you any pain, you’ve left it and left it. Eventually, the decay will reach the nerve of your tooth, which supplies your tooth with blood, causes sensitivity, and is what we remove when we do a root canal. Now, imagine that nerve becoming inflamed because of the decay that’s now reached it, and because it tries to get you out of pain itself, an abscess forms at the base of your tooth root. Now, this abscess is getting bigger and bigger, it’s starting to hurt, and it’s letting you know it’s there because of the great, big facial swelling that’s appeared around your jaw.
So you phone us up, and we get you an appointment. We will assess the tooth and see why it’s causing so much pain. If you are in absolute agony with a visible facial swelling, then there’s no way we’re getting anywhere near that tooth, so we will have to prescribe antibiotics. These will help get rid of the swelling and infection that’s around your tooth, but it will not fix the hole in your tooth. That will remain until we do a root canal filling, a filling, or extract the tooth. That facial swelling may well return, as the bacteria can still get to the pulp of your tooth and can still cause a reaction.
If the pain is bearable, and you don’t have facial swelling, we will most likely send you away to manage it with painkillers until the pain subsides and we can get near you with some local anaesthetic.
The problem with swellings is that they tend to stop our local anaesthetic from working, so even if we did try to numb you up, it would not make your tooth numb enough to actually work on. If we can work on it, then we will, without the need for antibiotics.
This is also why you’ll be greeted with an eye roll if you come back in for a second course of antibiotics after you’ve already had one for the same problem a few months ago and not had any treatment carried out! It’s not that we’re being mean, we just want the antibiotics to work when and if you really, really need them. Plus we have a rather horrid one which stops you from drinking. No one wants to be prescribed that on a Friday night!
So there you have it. Antibiotics will not cure toothache, they will only mask the problem until you have something done about the tooth itself. They may stop the pain for a few days, weeks or even months, but it will always come back with a vengeance!
A dentist needs to examine your mouth and decide the cause of the pain. Dental treatment may then be needed, such as fillings, root treatment or sometimes extraction of the tooth.
Painkillers can help – paracetamol and, if you can safely take it, ibuprofen. Both can be bought from pharmacies.
Always read the patient information leaflet and check it is safe for you to take either medicine. You can ask your pharmacist for advice.
Your dentist will decide whether antibiotics are appropriate for your dental issue.
Antibiotics on their own do not remove the infection or stop pain. Dental treatment is usually needed as well.
Antibiotics, like other medicines, can also have side-effects so won’t be prescribed unless absolutely necessary
If you do have any problems at present that you know need addressing, please call us today. It might save you from needing antibiotics!
Read more about antibiotics on the NHS website
For an emergency appointment with us, click here
– Clare 🙂Back to Blog