In a little over a century, antibiotics have changed the face of healthcare. We no longer fear cholera, strep throat or even a small cut as our forebears did a hundred years ago. Antibiotics are also an essential weapon against infection in dental situations.
But evidence is mounting that we're overusing these miracle drugs. Besides continued growth in antibiotic prescriptions, sometimes to preempt a possible infection rather than treat an existing one, food producers are increasingly adding them to animal feed and other products as a preventive measure.
The problem with expanding our uses of antibiotics is the ability of targeted microorganisms to develop defenses against our most common drugs. Some may even mutate into a kind of "super bug" like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which no longer responds to a particular antibiotic.
As older antibiotics become less effective, we must develop newer drugs to overcome the strengthened defenses of targeted microorganisms. But this takes time—meanwhile, as antibiotic options dwindle, more than 2 million people each year encounter an antibiotic-resistant infection that results in around 20,000 deaths according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
But there are hopeful signs that the world is now rising to meet the threat of antibiotic resistance. For example, support is growing within the U.S., Canada and the EU to ban the use of antibiotics in animal feed except for treating actual infections.
Many healthcare organizations are also exploring ways to reduce unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions. One way is to make better use of testing, especially to identify the precise bacteria causing an infection so that it can be targeted with a specific antibiotic that will best respond to it.
We're also seeing modifications in the use of antibiotics as a preventive measure. For example, people with certain conditions like congenital heart problems or joint prosthetics have routinely received antibiotics before dental procedures to preempt infection. In recent years that list of conditions has been trimmed substantially.
The move toward a more conservative use of antibiotics will have an impact on healthcare, including dentistry. But whatever the changes, dentists and other health professionals will continue to place their patient's health at the forefront.
If you would like more information on the use of antibiotics in dentistry, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Antibiotics: Use and Abuse.”
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