Root Canals and Antibiotics: What You Need to Know

Root canals are done when you need to have teeth with severe infections treated. This type of procedure requires endodontists to clear out infected tissue inside teeth. Since root canals are done to treat tooth infections, you might assume that you’ll be given antibiotics before or after this procedure. Knowing more about the use of this medication for infected teeth can help you understand what to expect when you need a root canal.


Antibiotic Use with Tooth Infections

Antibiotics are medications that are used for treating bacterial infections. These medications stop bacteria from growing, which helps clear up infections. While you might take antibiotics for a bacterial infection in your body, tooth infections are often an exception. Tooth infections usually aren’t treated with antibiotics. Instead, endodontic treatment, such as a root canal, pulpotomy, or pulpectomy, is typically used for these infections.

Endodontic procedures involve taking infected tissue out of the affected tooth, which helps eliminate the infection. Root canals remove infected tissue from the inner part of the tooth, known as the pulp. A pulpotomy involves removing infected pulp tissue from the crown of a tooth, while a pulpectomy involves removing infected pulp tissue from the crown and roots. When the infected tissue is taken out, the tooth can heal. Treated teeth are also sealed up to prevent infections from returning or new infections from developing.


When Antibiotics Are Used

Although antibiotics are not used often for tooth infections, there are some exceptions. Antibiotics are sometimes used with endodontic treatment in cases where fever, swelling, or pain occur. Endodontists might also prescribe antibiotics before root canals if patients have a risk of developing a complication known as infective endocarditis. This can happen when bacteria from the mouth enter the bloodstream and infect the lining of the heart. Those who have an increased risk of this infection due to underlying conditions, such as congenital heart defects, might be asked to take antibiotics before endodontic treatment.

When you’ll be undergoing endodontic treatment, you should discuss your full medical history with your endodontist. This helps your endodontist determine if there is a need for you to take antibiotics before or after having a root canal.


Antibiotic Use for a Root Canal

If you need to take antibiotics for a root canal, you should follow your dentist’s or endodontist’s instructions. While it’s recommended that patients stop a 7-day or 10-day course of antibiotics when their symptoms resolve and they feel better, you should ask your dentist or endodontist for specific instructions. This helps you know when you can safely stop taking antibiotics.

When you need antibiotics for endodontic treatment, you should also make sure you let your dentist or endodontist know if you are allergic to any of these medications. For example, some people have a penicillin allergy. This information helps ensure that your dentist or endodontist prescribes an antibiotic that is safe for you to take.


Risks of Antibiotic Overuse or Unnecessary Use

Why aren’t antibiotics commonly used for tooth infections as they are with infections in other parts of the body? Antibiotic overuse or the unnecessary use of antibiotics has led to the development of bacteria that are resistant to these medications. This makes infections much harder to successfully treat. As health experts have learned more about this problem, the use of antibiotics for tooth infections has been discouraged unless needed. Using endodontic treatment for tooth infections helps lower the unnecessary use of antibiotics or the overuse of these medications, which helps lower the risk of having antibiotic-resistant bacteria develop.


Tips for Before and After Root Canals

While taking antibiotics might not be part of your preparation for a root canal or post-care instructions, other tips can help you deal with tooth pain beforehand and ensure proper healing after your procedure. Before your root canal, you might find relief from tooth pain by applying ice packs to your face or jaw and rinsing with warm saltwater. Taking over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, might offer temporary tooth pain relief as well. Other ways to ease pain before your root canal include avoiding biting down on hard foods and avoiding having hot or cold foods and beverages if you have tooth sensitivity.

After having a root canal, you should follow your post-care instructions. These might include taking over-the-counter medication for pain relief and avoiding biting down on the side of your mouth with the treated tooth until you have a dental crown put on.


If you have dental problems that might require a root canal, please contact Largo Endodontics to set up an appointment. Dr. Ernest Rillman, our endodontist, can determine if a root canal is the right treatment. Dr. Rillman can also answer any questions you have about the use of antibiotics with root canals.