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Antibiotics and Antibiotic


Arthur H. Jeske

Introduction and Principles Pediatric Dentistry 2014; Flynn 2011). Recently,

three recent publications have summarized the
Antibiotics play an important role in the manage- frequency of various antibiotic prescriptions
ment of odontogenic infections (primarily as written in the USA (Germak et al. 2017; Roberts
adjuncts to surgical procedures) and for the pre- et  al. 2017) and internationally (Segura-Egea
vention of systemic infections arising from bac- et al. 2017). The outcomes of these survey-based
teremias associated with dental procedures in studies indicate that virtually all of the antibiotics
patients at risk for serious systemic infective considered to be appropriate for the management
complications (e.g., infective endocarditis). of odontogenic infections at the end of the twen-
However, dental professionals must be vigilant in tieth century remain antibiotics of choice in con-
the use of these drugs to avoid their overuse and temporary dental practice. An exception to this
help address the serious issue of increasing anti- generalization from the international survey out-
biotic resistance (Antibiotic Resistance Threats comes is the continued presence of erythromycin
in the United States 2013). Since the approval of as an antibiotic of choice (Segura-Egea et  al.
phenoxymethyl penicillin (penicillin V) by the 2017).
Food and Drug Administration in 1956, dental In the USA, the unfavorable characteristics of
infections in outpatients have been managed suc- erythromycin base and other erythromycin salts,
cessfully with a penicillin or another oral narrow-­ including poor pharmacokinetics, irritancy in the
spectrum antibiotic, which is effective against gastrointestinal tract, and rapid development of
infections caused by susceptible gram-positive bacterial resistance, are documented sufficiently
and anaerobic bacteria. Currently, only a few, so that its use in this country has largely been
selected classes of antibiotics are indicated for abandoned.
the dental management of oral infections, includ- Tetracyclines, metronidazole, and macrolides
ing penicillins, cephalosporins, lincosamides, may be used in the management of periodontitis,
and macrolides (American Association of particularly refractory cases, where sub-­
Endodontists 2012; American Academy of antimicrobial doses of tetracyclines and macro-
lides appear to be beneficial (Haffajee et al. 2003;
Hirsch et  al. 2012). This chapter is focused on
commonly used oral antibiotics, with an empha-
A. H. Jeske (*) sis on high-level scientific evidence. The reader
University of Texas School of Dentistry at Houston, is referred to other sources for information on
Houston, TX, USA antiviral and antifungal agents.

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019 39

A. H. Jeske (ed.), Contemporary Dental Pharmacology,
40 A. H. Jeske

There are several important principles that Aminopenicillins have an extended spectrum,
must be understood prior to prescribing an antibi- which includes some gram-negative organisms
otic for a dental patient: that are not typically involved in odontogenic
infections. Amoxicillin is now the most widely
1. Antibiotics are adjuncts to debridement and/ prescribed drug in this class, owing primarily to
or surgical interventions (tooth extraction, its pharmacokinetic traits. Because penicillins
pulpectomy, incision and drainage) and should act by inhibition of bacterial cell wall synthesis,
not be used in place of these procedures in the they have little systemic toxicity in mammals
management of infections. (mammalian cells lack a “cell wall”). However,
2. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses or penicillins carry a relatively higher risk of allergy
fungal organisms. Their successful use than other dental antibiotics. Penicillin was for-
depends on an accurate diagnosis, which merly recommended as the antibiotic of first
should confirm a bacterial etiology. choice for routine dental infections, and while
3. An antibiotic regimen should be based upon amoxicillin has largely replaced it in the USA,
the signs and symptoms of the bacterial dis- its use remains appropriate and, in some cases,
ease. The patient’s responses to an antibiotic very favorable owing to its wide availability and
should be monitored using defined clinical low cost.
endpoints (reduction of swelling, reduction of Cephalosporins: Since the development of
body temperature). cephalexin, considered a first-generation agent in
4. Prophylactic use of antibiotics in dentistry is the USA, there are now four generations of ceph-
limited (see Prescribing Considerations). The alosporins. Each later generation was synthesized
practitioner must be familiar with the current to provide a broader spectrum of activity. While
scientific evidence for this use, as well as cur- cephalosporins are indicated for antibiotic pro-
rent guidelines established by dental and med- phylaxis in selected patients, they are generally
ical professional organizations. not preferred as routine agents in cases of odon-
5. Some antibiotics may carry a high risk of
togenic infections. They are included among
allergic reactions and should be used only alternative agents for antibiotic prophylaxis
after careful consideration of the patient’s because of their effectiveness against gram-­
medical and dental history. positive cocci.
6. There are relatively few randomized, con-
In patients with allergy to penicillin, first-­
trolled clinical trials of antibiotics in dentistry generation cephalosporins (e.g., cephalexin,
and, therefore, relatively few systematic Keflex®) carry a relatively low rate of cross-­
reviews and meta-analyses on which to base sensitivity of approximately 1%, but this can vary
therapeutic decisions. considerably for other generations of these agents
7. The prescription of antibiotics is not appropri- (Campagna et al. 2012). In cases in which a ceph-
ate as an interim measure when symptoms alosporin is appropriate for the management of
warrant immediate physical examination of an odontogenic infection, an agent from the
the patient, particularly in children (Cherry second-­generation cephamycin subgroup should
et al. 2012). be selected, as this group possesses greater anti-
bacterial efficacy against gram-negative anaer-
obes than other groups of cephalosporins (Molavi
 ntibiotics Commonly Used
A 1991). Agents in this subgroup include cefoxitin,
in Dentistry cefotetan, and cefmetazole. Cephalosporins are
bactericidal and possess a mechanism of action
Penicillins: There are many forms of penicillin, similar to that of the penicillins, i.e., inhibition of
the most common being phenoxymethyl penicil- bacterial cell wall synthesis by blocking the
lin (penicillin VK), a beta lactam penicillin. transpeptidation reaction.
Antibiotics and Antibiotic Prophylaxis 41

Lincosamides: Clindamycin is a lincosamide to a locally released GI pro-motility hormone,

that is very effective against anaerobic and mixed motilin. Except for use as alternatives for infective
aerobic-anaerobic infections. It possesses endocarditis prophylaxis, they are not preferred as
­favorable pharmacokinetics and has become a first-choice or penicillin-alternative drugs for rou-
widely used alternative for dental infections in tine odontogenic infections. For the management
cases of penicillin allergy. Lincosamides were of odontogenic infections with agents from this
initially implicated as a major causative agent class, erythromycin base and its various salts are
for pseudomembranous colitis. It now appears not recommended, and azithromycin, based on its
that they have a risk for this complication similar favorable pharmacokinetics, is the preferred repre-
to that of the cephalosporins and aminopenicil- sentative for dental use of this class of antibiotic.
lins. Lincosamides may be bactericidal in some Nitroimidazoles: Metronidazole was origi-
bacterial species, particularly at higher dosages, nally marketed for use in the treatment of proto-
and their mechanism of action involves inhibi- zoan infections that also has proven bactericidal
tion of bacterial protein synthesis by binding to activity against anaerobes. Because many oral
the same 50s ribosomal subunit as infections (acute periodontal infections) are pre-
erythromycin. dominantly anaerobic in nature, metronidazole
Macrolides: Erythromycin, clarithromycin, may be useful alone or in combination with
and azithromycin are members of this group and amoxicillin. It has proven to be very effective
may be bacteriostatic or bactericidal, at higher con- when tested in  vitro against periodontal patho-
centrations. Macrolides inhibit protein synthesis by genic organisms. Because metronidazole is effec-
binding to the 50s ribosomal RNA.  Macrolides tive only against anaerobic organisms, its
possess less favorable characteristics for use in recommended role is as an adjunct to be used with
dentistry than the other antibiotic classes. a penicillin when a suboptimal clinical response
Macrolides also bind to cytochrome P450 hepatic to the penicillin occurs (Bali et al. 2015).
enzymes and can result in numerous seriously toxic Tetracyclines: Tetracyclines, including dox-
drug interactions. Macrolides (azithromycin) are ycycline, are broad-spectrum, bacteriostatic
associated with cardiac arrhythmias, and erythro- agents which inhibit bacterial protein synthesis
mycin may also stimulate uncomfortable contrac- by binding to the 30s ribosomal subunit. They
tions of GI smooth muscle because of its similarity chelate calcium ions and thus have a propensity

Table 1  Classification and characteristics of common dental antibiotics for oral administration
Mechanism of Common adult oral
Antibiotic Class action dosagea Special considerations
Penicillin VK Beta lactam Bactericidal 500 mg q 6 h Absorption impaired by food
Amoxicillin Aminopenicillin Bactericidal 500 mg q 8 h Absorption not impaired by food,
available with beta lactamase inhibitor
Cephalexin Cephalosporin Bactericidal 2 g 30 min-1 h Risk of cross-allergy with penicillins
before procedure is low; alternative agent for
Clindamycin Lincosamide Bactericidal 300 mg q 6 h Excellent alternative in cases of
penicillin allergy
Azithromycin Macrolide Bacteriostatic 500 mg day 1, then Once daily dosing; alternative agent
250 mg 1 q day for prophylaxis
Clarithromycin Macrolide Bacteriostatic 500 mg q 12 h Alternative agent for prophylaxis
Metronidazole Nitroimidazole Bactericidal 500 mg q 8 h Disulfiram-like reactions with alcohol;
effective against anaerobes only
Doxycline Tetracycline Bacteriostatic 20 mg q 12 h prior Adjunct for periodontal therapy;
to meals available in local delivery forms
See American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (2014) for information regarding pediatric dosages
42 A. H. Jeske

to cause fluorescent tooth staining through incor- Association of Endodontists (American

poration into the enamel of developing teeth, and Academy of Pediatric Dentistry 2014).
even into remineralizing enamel of teeth that 5. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry
have already erupted (McKenna et  al. 1999). has promulgated guidelines for antibiotic use in
While not typically indicated for routine odonto- children (American Academy of Pediatric
genic infections, tetracyclines at sub-antimicro- Dentistry 2014). Note that antibiotic dosages
bial doses modulate matrix metalloproteinases must be adjusted for the child’s body weight.
(collagenases) involved in the breakdown of Generally, the same antibiotics routinely used for
extracellular structures and inflammation. They odontogenic infections in adults are also the pre-
are used in selected cases of periodontitis refrac- ferred agents in the pediatric patient population.
tory to conventional therapy procedures. Some
6. Warnings with antibiotic therapy should be
patients may develop photosensitivity to these issued verbally and in writing on the prescrip-
drugs, which can be severe (Jeske 2017). tion. They should include the possible develop-
The specific names and other characteristics ment of allergic reactions and diarrhea and
of dentally useful antibiotics are shown in Table 1 other GI disturbances. It is recommended that
(Jeske 2017). refills not be authorized for antibiotic prescrip-
tions so that unnecessary, prolonged exposure
of the patient to the drug is avoided, minimiz-
Prescribing Considerations ing the risk of adverse effects, as well as devel-
opment of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains.
1. Following the diagnosis of a bacterial infec-
tion and removal of the infected tissue (i.e.,
drainage or extraction or root canal therapy), Antibiotic Prophylaxis
the dental provider can begin antibiotic ther-
apy with a standard dose of an orally adminis- While there is little scientific evidence to support
tered first-choice agent (such as amoxicillin the use of prophylactic antibiotics to prevent post-
500 mg) or an alternative agent. It is appropri- operative complications, guidance from profes-
ate to initiate antibiotic therapy on an empiri- sional resources suggests its continued use in
cal basis (without obtaining culture and patients at highest risk of developing complica-
sensitivity testing). Culture and sensitivity tions from infective endocarditis (Thornhill et al.
testing requires additional time and may or 2018). Most regimens involve a single, preopera-
may not identify specific etiologic pathogens. tive dose of a bactericidal agent with activity
Culture and sensitivity testing should be con- against Streptococcus viridans. There is limited
sidered if initial therapy is not effective. evidence showing that a second dose will not
2. The typical course of antibiotic therapy for enhance outcomes (Lopes et  al. 2011). There is
dental infections runs for 5–7  days, unless also limited evidence that antibiotic prophylaxis
symptoms persist. The patient should be mon- reduces complications following implant place-
itored closely at the beginning of antibiotic ment and no strong evidence supporting use to
therapy. Noticeable improvement should be prevent complications of third-molar surgery
expected within 24–48 h. (Esposito et al. 2013; Lodi et al. 2012). Antibiotic
3. Because of reduced absorption in the presence prophylaxis prior to dental treatment in patients
of food, penicillin V should be prescribed 1 h with total joint arthroplasty (artificial joint) is con-
before meals or 2 h after meals. troversial, and professional guidance now empha-
4. Penicillins do not appear to be effective for the sizes good oral hygiene to prevent infective
management of symptomatic irreversible pulpi- complications in these patients. At this time, there
tis (Keenan et al. 2005). Guidelines for the selec- is insufficient scientific evidence on which to base
tion and use of antibiotics in adults for endodontic the practice (American Academy of Orthopedic
infections have been published by the American Surgeons and American Dental Association 2012).
Antibiotics and Antibiotic Prophylaxis 43

However, when in doubt, the dentist is obli- Adverse Effects

gated to consult with the patient’s physician(s) to
determine the need for antibiotic prophylaxis and Antibiotics, as prescribed in dentistry, are gener-
the appropriateness of the recommended regi- ally well tolerated. With the exception of allergy,
men. Recently, a secular trend analysis of the most adverse effects from antibiotics are related
incidence of infective endocarditis in a country in to their effects on the gastrointestinal tract.
which antibiotic prophylaxis for patients at risk Virtually all antibiotics may irritate the stomach
of infective endocarditis had been abandoned or stimulate contractions of gastrointestinal
suggests that the abandonment of the practice smooth muscle, resulting in nausea, vomiting,
may have contributed to a rise in cases of infec- and cramping. They may also disrupt the normal
tive endocarditis. Further, it appears that this flora, resulting in diarrhea or leading to antibiotic-­
increase affected patients previously deemed not associated colitis and a potentially life-­
having conditions that put them at high risk for threatening overgrowth of C. difficile.
developing infective endocarditis (Dayer et  al. Symptoms with most cases of antibiotic-­
2015). associated diarrhea dissipate when the antibiotic
At this time, recent expert analyses of the is discontinued. It is imperative that patients be
practice of antibiotic prophylaxis to prevent cautioned against the use of antidiarrheal drugs
infective endocarditis have been published with and/or probiotics in place of medical diagnosis
important major conclusions. Dayer et al. (2018) and management of this rare, but serious, compli-
concluded that while antibiotic prophylaxis to cation. The development of any sign or symptom
prevent infective endocarditis produces a “mar- of an allergic reaction (rash, itching, and/or hives)
ginal gain,” the benefits of the prophylaxis out- requires that the antibiotic agent be discontinued
weigh the risks, especially in patients at high risk immediately and the patient be evaluated medi-
for endocarditis and even for those at moderate cally (Beacher et al. 2015).
risk. This group further suggested that when all Penicillins are typically associated with a rate
evidence is considered, the possibility that antibi- of allergy that is relatively higher than for other
otic prophylaxis has some small impact cannot classes of antibiotics. These reactions may range
be discounted. Finally, these authors indicated from delayed-onset, mild forms (e.g., rash) to
that antibiotic prophylaxis involves very little immediate-onset type I anaphylaxis.
expense and the dosing regimens currently rec-
ommended minimize the risk of development of
antibiotic resistance. Adverse Drug Interactions
In a related publication, Thornhill et al. (2018)
suggest that patients previously classified as Antibiotics are capable of adversely interacting
“moderate risk” for infective endocarditis might with other dental and medical drugs, both
also be considered as high risk and that current through pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic
guidelines for stratifying the risks of infective mechanisms. The most significant adverse phar-
endocarditis related to dental procedures may macodynamic interaction for commonly pre-
require re-evaluation. This appears to have been scribed antibiotics is the mutual antagonism that
confirmed indirectly in a recent report of an out- occurs when a bactericidal agent (penicillins,
break of bacterial endocarditis in a US oral sur- cephalosporins) is co-administered with a bacte-
gery practice (Ross et al. 2018). In this report on riostatic agent (tetracycline). The recent scien-
15 patients who developed infective endocarditis tific ­
evidence does not support an adverse
and who underwent oral surgical procedures, 10 interaction between oral contraceptives and anti-
had predisposing cardiovascular conditions, and biotics used in dentistry (Taylor and Pemberton
of these, 5 had mitral valve prolapse, a condition 2012).
for which current guidelines no longer recom- Conversely, if drugs with similar mechanisms
mend prophylactic antibiotic (Wilson et al. 2007). of action are administered together, a beneficial
44 A. H. Jeske

Table 2  Clinically significant drug interactions involving antibiotics used in dentistry—[modified from Ciancio
Primary drug Action Interaction (and effect)
Alcohol Metabolism Metronidazole (severe nausea, vomiting)
decreased by
Benzodiazepines Enhanced by Erythromycin, clarithromycin (increased CNS depression)
Carbamazepine Enhanced by Erythromycin, clarithromycin (increase carbamazepine toxicity
Coumarins (including Enhanced by Erythromycin, clarithromycin, metronidazole, penicillins,
warfarin) tetracyclines (increased risk of bleeding)
Digoxin Enhanced by Erythromycin, clarithromycin (increased toxicity of digoxin,
including cardiac arrhythmias
Lidocaine Enhanced by Erythromycin, clarithromycin (increased toxicity of lidocaine, CNS
Penicillins Antagonized by Probenecid, salicylates, coumarin, diphenylhydantoin, griseofulvin
(reduced efficacy against infection)
Statins Enhanced by Erythromycin, clarithromycin (increased statin toxicity, e.g.,
Tetracyclines Antagonized by Antacids, iron (reduced absorption of tetracyclines)
Tetracyclines Antagonizes Penicillin (reduced efficacy against infection)
Theophylline Potentiated by Erythromycin, clarithromycin (increase toxicity of theophylline,
possible cardiac arrhythmias)

synergism may result. Combinations of antibiot- A recent systematic review of this subject
ics are not generally recommended in dentistry. indicates that the scientific evidence for systemic
However, the addition of metronidazole to a peni- antibiotics in the treatment of refractory peri-
cillin regimen may improve outcomes because of odontitis does not support this indication, nor
the selective action of metronidazole on strictly does it show that systemic antibiotics add an
anaerobic organisms. Among the antibiotics dis- incremental benefit to conventional treatment
cussed here, macrolides are the most likely to along (e.g., mechanical debridement) (Santos
produce pharmacokinetic drug interactions. et al. 2016). Until there are more studies with less
Serious adverse interactions of the various classes heterogeneity and with parallel design, the use of
of dental antibiotics are listed in Table 2 (Ciancio systemic antibiotics for periodontal therapy
2011). remains controversial.
Less significant drug interactions are also pos-
sible—the clinician is urged to consult the com-
plete prescribing information for all drugs Conclusion
For medically compromised patients with sys- Antibiotics continue to play an important, albeit
temic disease that could affect drug metabolism adjunctive, role in the management of routine
and/or excretion, consultation with the patient’s odontogenic infections. They are safe and effec-
physician is recommended. tive when prescribed at recommended doses and
based on the patient’s presenting signs, symp-
toms, and coexisting medical conditions. The
Antibiotics for Periodontitis number of patients who are candidates for antibi-
otic prophylaxis is relatively small, and prophy-
Both systemic and locally applied antibiotics lactic use should be guided by the current
have been investigated for the management of recommendations of professional organizations,
periodontal diseases, focused primarily on refrac- as based on scientific studies. Dentists should
tory periodontitis (periodontitis that responds continue to consider emerging evidence for the use
poorly to conventional therapy). of low-dosage antibiotics in cases of refractory
Antibiotics and Antibiotic Prophylaxis 45

periodontitis and other inflammatory diseases. At

present, the topic of dental antibiotics can be ter12ecfe.pdf
summarized as follows: Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2013.
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