One of the possible side effects of dental work is the introduction of oral bacteria into the bloodstream, a condition known as bacteremia. Although not unusual — it can also occur when you eat or brush your teeth — bacteremia could trigger a dangerous infection for some patients.
For many years, we in the dental profession have taken extra precautions with two such categories of patients: those with congenital (“at birth”) heart conditions who are more susceptible to infective endocarditis, a life-threatening infection of the heart lining or heart valves; and patients who’ve undergone joint replacements and are at a higher risk of developing blood-borne infections at the replacement site. It’s been a standard practice for many years to administer antibiotics to patients in these two categories sometime before they undergo a dental procedure as a way of curtailing the effects of any resulting bacteremia.
Recently, however, the guidelines for antibiotic pretreatment for dental work have changed as two major medical associations have revised their recommendations on the procedure. The American Heart Association (AHA) now recommends dentists administer antibiotic pretreatment only to heart patients with a history of endocarditis, artificial valves or repairs with artificial material, heart transplants with abnormal heart valve function and other similar conditions.
Likewise after a series of joint studies with the American Dental Association on infections in dental patients with orthopedic implants, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons no longer recommends pretreatment for artificial joint patients. It’s now left to the dentist and patient to determine whether antibiotics before a procedure is appropriate based on the patient’s medical history. For example, premedication may still be prudent for joint replacement patients with compromised immune systems caused by systemic illnesses like cancer or diabetes.
Although the guidelines have narrowed, it’s still important for you tell us about any heart condition you may have, or if you’ve undergone any type of joint replacement therapy. It’s also advisable for you to discuss with your primary doctor how your condition might be impacted by any proposed or scheduled dental procedure. Our aim is to always minimize any risk to your overall health as we treat your dental needs.