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Using Antibiotics to Treat Gum Disease

The ability to identify the specific organisms that cause periodontitis has prompted an increase in the use of oral antibiotics in the treatment of gum disease. However, scientists have wondered if this practice really does contribute to the ultimate goal — fewer lost teeth. Experts are considering whether overusing oral antibiotics could create drug-resistant strains of bacteria and whether antibiotic use should be avoided if there is not a clear benefit. In an attempt to resolve this issue, researchers reviewed the records of 12,631 patients with mild to advanced periodontal disease who had taken antibiotics at any point over a three-year period. In a 2008 article published in The Journal of Dental Research, the team reported that for the most part, oral antibiotics had no effect on tooth preservation. The two exceptions to this finding were individuals who took longer courses of tetracyclines in addition to receiving other forms of periodontal care, and patients with severe gum disease who took penicillin.

There may yet be a role for antibiotics in gum disease treatment. Sustained-release medications in the form of gels, fibers, and chips that deliver antibiotics directly into the periodontal pocket may avert the hazard of oral medication. Focusing treatment only on the bacteria that are causing the problem may avoid exposing other bacteria throughout the body to unnecessary doses of antibiotics that could promote resistance.


Source: Dental Health for Adults: A Guide to Protecting Your Teeth and Gums. Copyright © by Harvard University. All rights reserved.

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