Will an antibiotic help my tooth infection?

I've had a really bad toothache for a little over a week. Now my face is beginning to swell, and I think I may have a tooth infection. I don't have enough money to go to the dentist. Can I just get my doctor to write me a prescription for an antibiotic to take care of this?

Charlie S.-California


What you're asking is actually a very dangerous thing to do. Though antibiotics work well in tandem with dental treatment, they are in no way a good substitute. Tooth infections are usually inside the tooth, and they cause the tissue inside the tooth to die. While an antibiotic will circulate in your bloodstream, it will not circulate inside dead tissue. Even if your tooth isn’t dead inside, it is inside is a confined space with no room for your tissues to swell, which is what needs to happen when your body fights an infection. For these reasons, antibiotics cannot currently eliminate tooth infections.

What you could end up doing is breeding bacteria that is resistant to treatment, because you took antibiotics without clearing out the infection completely. This is so dangerous, because mouth infections can easily spread to the throat, or even the brain.

I know it can be difficult to come up with money for dental treatment. There is nothing wrong with you calling around to local dentists and explaining your situation. I know several dentists who are willing to help out in a serious dental emergency situation and will work with you on payment.

Another reason people sometimes avoid dental treatment is because of high dental anxiety. Though you didn't mention this, I'll bring it up in case another reader is struggling with it. As an Orange County emergency dentist myself, I see cases where people ended up with an emergency because they allowed dental fear to get in the way of their dental care for years.  Many dentists today now have nitrous oxide available to their patients. This is a sedative that you may know as "laughing gas". It relaxes you and gives you a pain free dental experience.

This blog is brought to you by Orange County Dentist Dr. Tran.

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