‘Concern’ over GPs prescribing unnecessary antibiotics for toothache


Half of patients visiting GPs for dental problems are being prescribed antibiotics, new research shows

Over half of patients who visited their GP with dental issues were prescribed antibiotics, according to new research.

In a 10-year retrospective study, experts from Cardiff University and Cardiff and Vale University Health Board found patients preferred to visit their GP rather than the dentist, with more than half of the consultations resulting in unnecessary and potentially harmful antibiotic prescriptions.

Our study found that many people visit their GP rather than their dentist when experiencing dental problems,’ said Dr Anwen Cope, a qualified dentist and speciality trainee in dental public health at Cardiff and Vale University Health Board.

‘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.’

Antibiotic resistance

The study raises serious concerns over the potential contribution to antibiotic resistance by GPs for dental health issues.

Public Health England has set up an AMR Strategy Programme Coordination Group to help combat antibiotic drug resistance, which occurs when bacterial infections no longer respond to antibiotics.

‘The widespread use of antibiotics in the management of tooth-related complaints in general practice is concerning,’ Dr Cope continued.

‘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.

‘Prescribing antibiotics also carries a risk of adverse reaction and is likely to increase the number of medical consultations for dental conditions further down the line.

‘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.

‘Improving antibiotic prescribing for dental problems is an important step in ensuring antibiotics will still be available in the years to come.’


  1. 1

    Why is this surprising? Undergraduate medical courses stopped teaching basic (5 lectures) 20 odd years ago so the doctors have no idea about dental problems. Visiting the GP is free. Clearly visiting the dentist is ridiculously cheap but it still costs money!

  2. 2

    Ha ha ha! Who’d a thunk it?! Could NHS charges just possibly have a TINY bit to do with this reluctance to see an NHS dentist?
    Frankly, it doesn’t concern me. I dumped the NHS in 2006…….. ;-)).

  3. 3

    Of course GP consultations are free whilst a visit to a NHS dentist incurs a payment of over £19 . The DoH has recently removed the ability for a dentist to provide a prescription only treatment for no patient charge . For those that do not have access to an NHS dentist where a private dental consultation may cost easily in excess of £30 its obvious where the patient will end up .

  4. 4

    It takes 2 minutes to write out a script for antibiotics compared to 15-30 minutes to anaesthetise a tooth and either extract it or extirpate the pulp and place a dressing and temp closure. Fully booked time poor dentists often don’t have the time to do this so antibiotics is the next best alternative.

    • 5

      Missed a bit, Rob. It’s ‘NHS’. I’m not NHS so my time pressure is much, much less. Can you guess why? LOL. My time cost money. However, it’s amazing how toothache just somehow allows those with Sky dishes, cigarettes, a souped-up Vauxhall, holidays in Spain and ‘I’m on benefits’ to find our private emergency slot fees, when the local UDA factory fails them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You Might Also Like