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Study finds antibiotics prescribed by dentists often unnecessary

Researchers have looked into the prescription of antibiotics by dentists as a pre-emptive measure against infection, uncovering worrying results. (Photograph: fizkes/Shutterstock)

Thu. 6. June 2019


CORVALLIS, Ore., U.S.: The prescription of drugs in dentistry has recently been brought into question. Much of the discussion has been around opioids and the effect they are having on patients. In a recent study, researchers looked into the antibiotics prescribed by dentists as a pre-emptive measure against infection and found that they are unnecessary 81 percent of the time.

By examining nearly 170,000 dentist-written antibiotic prescriptions from 2011 to 2015, the researchers found that 90 percent of the patients had undergone a procedure that possibly warranted taking an antibiotic ahead of time. However, less than 21 percent of those cases involved a cardiac condition that made an antibiotic prescription recommended under medical guidelines.

As part of the study, which was conducted by researchers from Oregon State University in Corvallis and the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) in the U.S., regional prescription practices were also examined. According to the results, unnecessary prescriptions were most prevalent, on a percentage basis, in the West, with 85 percent out of sync with the guidelines. Other regional results showed 78 percent for the Northeast, 83 percent for the Midwest and 80 percent for the South, and an overall average of 82 percent of the unnecessary prescriptions written in urban population centers, and 79 percent in rural areas.

“Dental providers are very thoughtful when they develop care plans for their patients and there are many factors that inform dentists’ recommendations, but this study shows that there is an opportunity for dentists to re-evaluate if necessary,” said Dr. Susan Rowan from the UIC College of Dentistry.

In the U.S., dentists are responsible for 10 percent of all antibiotic prescriptions, with researchers noting that they believe their findings should encourage dentists to look at the results as a powerful call to action and not as a rebuke.

The study, titled “Assessment of the appropriateness of antibiotic prescriptions for infection prophylaxis before dental procedures, 2011 to 2015,” was published in the May 2019 issue of JAMA Network Open.

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