Dentists like doctors inappropriately prescribe antibiotics at times and may be contributing to the growing problem of a potentially deadly 'superbug', a US study suggests.
Taking antibiotics can put a patient at risk of developing Clostridium difficile (C.diff), a serious bacterial infection of the colon.
A study by the Mennesota Department of Health tracked community based C-diff infections in five counties between 2009 and 2015.
Of all the patients with C.diff during the six years, more than half (57 per cent) had been prescribed antibiotics and 15 per cent of those patients had taken antibiotics for dental procedures, according to the findings presented at medical conference IDWeek 2017.
Lead author Stacy Holzbauer says dentists are often "overlooked" in the global battle against antimicrobial resistance and the study highlights the importance of educating dentists about the potential complications of antibiotic prescribing.
"It is essential that they be included in efforts to improve antibiotic prescribing," she said.
Dr Paul Sambrook, Chair of the Dental Therapeutics Committee at the Australian Dental Association concedes dentists are perhaps not targeted as much as doctors for over-prescribing antibiotics however are aware of the issue.
"Dentists like some doctors are involved in some inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics at times," Dr Sambrook said.
The oral and maxillofacial surgeon at Royal Adelaide Hospital says antibiotics have a use but not by themselves.
"People need to understand that dental infections can cause death and we see about one or two deaths a year from dental infections so there are certainly people with infected teeth who don't get treatment that will die, so there's those acute situations where antibiotics are absolutely indicated the same as infections anywhere else in the body," Dr Sambrook said.
He explained there are also a small number of patients with cardiac conditions that require preventative antibiotic treatment ahead of dental surgery to prevent endocarditis.
However most dental procedures don't require antibiotics and previous overuse has in recent times led to more severe dental infections, he stressed.
"We did a study where we had 500 cases over a five year period that required more than one day in ICU because of dental infections," he said.
The study was published in journal Anaesthesia and Intensive Care in 2015.
Anyone who presents to a dentist with vague symptoms should not be given antibiotics just in case there's an infection, Dr Sambrook said.
"Patients need a proper diagnosis and then treatment with antibiotics and there are very few conditions where we feel that giving antibiotics to prevent infection or just in case are indicated," he said.