GPs overprescribing antibiotics for toothaches

  • Date: 15 April 2016

MORE than half of patients visiting a GP with a dental problem in the last 10 years were prescribed antibiotics, often unnecessarily, according to a study published in the British Journal of General Practice.

Researchers from the Cardiff University School of Dentistry examined 288,169 dental consultations in UK general medical practice from 2004 to 2013. They found that many patients are visiting their GP rather than their dentist, and 57 per cent of these consultations resulted in antibiotic prescribing.

Patients were also more likely to receive an antibiotic if they were male, aged 40–59 years, or had previously consulted the doctor for a dental problem.

Cardiff researcher Dr Anwen Cope said: "Most dental problems cannot be comprehensively managed by a GP. This places an additional burden on already busy GPs when patients should be visiting a dentist.

"The best treatment for severe toothache remains an operative intervention like an extraction or root canal treatment. These treatments can only be undertaken by a dentist. Therefore, we would always encourage patients to see a dentist, rather than a GP, when experiencing dental problems."

Dr Cope added: "The widespread use of antibiotics in the management of tooth-related complaints in general practice is concerning. Despite antibiotics not providing a definitive treatment for dental problems we found over half of consultations for dental problems resulted in prescription of an antibiotic.

"This presents a number of problems. It means patients are not getting a long-term resolution for their dental problem, and they may even remain in pain for longer. More worryingly is the potential impact on the rates of antibacterial resistance. Antibiotics save lives, and therefore it’s important we use them carefully and only when they are really required."

Link: Dental consultations in UK general practice and antibiotic prescribing rates: a retrospective cohort study

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