Dentists tend to be overeager when it comes to prescribing antibiotics, new research suggests.
The study authors found that antibiotics prescribed to prevent infection during dental procedures weren't necessary 81 percent of the time. That's important because 10 percent of all antibiotic prescriptions come from dentists, the researchers said.
"Preventive antibiotics in these patients gave them risks that outweighed the benefits," researcher Jessina McGregor, an associate professor at Oregon State University in Corvallis, said in a university news release.
Antibiotics have been recommended to dental patients who have certain heart conditions to prevent mouth bacteria from infecting the heart, the researchers explained.
But antibiotics can cause serious side effects and contribute to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.
Using a national database, McGregor and her colleagues collected data on nearly 170,000 antibiotic prescriptions from dentists between 2011 and 2015. Prescriptions were for more than 90,000 patients.
Although 90 percent of the patients had a procedure that might require an antibiotic, less than 21 percent had a heart condition that fell under that recommendation.
Across the country, the number of unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions varied by region, the findings showed. Most were in the West -- of more than 13,700 prescriptions written, 11,600 (85 percent) didn't follow prescribing guidelines.
In the Northeast, 78 percent of the prescriptions were unnecessary, as were 83 percent in the Midwest and 80 percent in the South, the researchers said.
Cities accounted for 82 percent of unnecessary prescriptions, and rural areas accounted for 79 percent, according to the report.
The researchers used a broad definition of high-risk cardiac patients, which suggests the number of unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions may be even higher.
Researcher Susan Rowan, of the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry, added that "dental providers should view this study, which is the first to look at preventive antibiotic prescribing for dental procedures, as a powerful call to action, not a rebuke."
The study was published online May 30 in JAMA Network Open.
Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more on antibiotics.
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