Can I Have an Infected Tooth Extracted, or Do I Have to Take Antibiotics First?
When it comes to tooth infections, the appropriate treatment can literally save your life. In rare cases, tooth infections spread into the airway, bloodstream or brain and cause death. Tooth infections are bacterial in origin, and taking prescription antibiotics is usually a necessary action. But is it required before you have the tooth pulled? We will answer that question and more in this blog.
How Do Antibiotics Fight a Tooth Infection?
Dental infections begin either inside a tooth in the form of cavities or around a tooth in the form of plaque and tartar buildup. As they grow and worsen, they spread into the tissues surrounding the tooth, which includes jawbone, ligaments and gum tissues.
Prescription antibiotics function to kill specific bacteria when an infection develops. One unique problem with dental infections is that antibiotics cannot penetrate the inside of a tooth. This means they cannot completely kill the infection. They can kill the bacteria that have already spread outside the tooth, but they do not remove the original source of bacteria. In a cavity, only physical removal of the decayed tooth structure removes the source of infection. In gum disease, only physical removal of the plaque and tartar buildup does the same.
This means that antibiotics can only slow down the spread of an infection and help you manage symptoms, but NOT stop the infection entirely.
How Does an Extraction Fight a Tooth Infection?
Extractions work much more simply. By removing the tooth itself, they eliminate the source of the infection, whether it is inside or around the tooth. Once the tooth is gone, the body’s immune system is usually able to overcome any residual infection in the surrounding tissues. In severe cases, even after a tooth extraction, some infection may continue spreading, so antibiotics may be necessary.
To be safe, your dentist often prescribes antibiotics in conjunction with the tooth extraction to ensure there is no residual infection remaining in the tissues.
Is One Necessary Before the Other?
This is a great question, and you may hear varying opinions from different dentists. In general, we like to prescribe antibiotics before a tooth extraction because it jump starts your body’s healing process. In some cases, an infection can interfere with the effectiveness of the local anesthetic (the numbing shot), so antibiotics make the actual extraction more comfortable, too.
In strict answer to this specific question, though, as to whether it is necessary, the answer is no. In emergency situations, we can remove the tooth immediately and prescribe antibiotics for the post-operative process. When we have time to plan, we can prescribe the medications prior to the extraction. So while it can be advantageous to take antibiotics prior to a dental extraction, it is not absolutely necessary.