Antibiotics to prevent complications following tooth extractions

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Nov 14:11:CD003811. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003811.pub2.


Background: The most frequent indications for tooth extractions are dental caries and periodontal infections, and these extractions are generally done by general dental practitioners. Antibiotics may be prescribed to patients undergoing extractions to prevent complications due to infection.

Objectives: To determine the effect of antibiotic prophylaxis on the development of infectious complications following tooth extractions.

Search methods: The following electronic databases were searched: the Cochrane Oral Health Group's Trials Register (to 25 January 2012), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library 2012, Issue 1), MEDLINE via OVID (1948 to 25 January 2012), EMBASE via OVID (1980 to 25 January 2012) and LILACS via BIREME (1982 to 25 January 2012). There were no restrictions regarding language or date of publication.

Selection criteria: We included randomised double-blind placebo-controlled trials of antibiotic prophylaxis in patients undergoing tooth extraction(s) for any indication.

Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently assessed risk of bias for the included studies and extracted data. We contacted trial authors for further details where these were unclear. For dichotomous outcomes we calculated risk ratios (RR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) using random-effects models. For continuous outcomes we used mean differences (MD) with 95% CI using random-effects models. We examined potential sources of heterogeneity. The quality of the body of evidence has been assessed using the GRADE tool.

Main results: This review included 18 double-blind placebo-controlled trials with a total of 2456 participants. Five trials were assessed at unclear risk of bias, thirteen at high risk, and none at low risk of bias. Compared to placebo, antibiotics probably reduce the risk of infection in patients undergoing third molar extraction(s) by approximately 70% (RR 0.29 (95% CI 0.16 to 0.50) P < 0.0001, 1523 participants, moderate quality evidence) which means that 12 people (range 10-17) need to be treated with antibiotics to prevent one infection following extraction of impacted wisdom teeth. There is evidence that antibiotics may reduce the risk of dry socket by 38% (RR 0.62 (95% CI 0.41 to 0.95) P = 0.03, 1429 participants, moderate quality evidence) which means that 38 people (range 24-250) need to take antibiotics to prevent one case of dry socket following extraction of impacted wisdom teeth. There is also some evidence that patients who have prophylactic antibiotics may have less pain (MD -8.17 (95% CI -11.90 to -4.45) P < 0.0001, 372 participants, moderate quality evidence ) overall 7 days after the extraction compared to those receiving placebo, which may be a direct result of the lower risk of infection. There is no evidence of a difference between antibiotics and placebo in the outcomes of fever (RR 0.34, 95% CI 0.06 to 1.99), swelling (RR 0.92, 95% CI 0.65 to 1.30) or trismus (RR 0.84, 95% CI 0.42 to 1.71) 7 days after tooth extraction.Antibiotics are associated with an increase in generally mild and transient adverse effects compared to placebo (RR 1.98 (95% CI 1.10 to 3.59) P = 0.02) which means that for every 21 people (range 8-200) who receive antibiotics, an adverse effect is likely.

Authors' conclusions: Although general dentists perform dental extractions because of severe dental caries or periodontal infection, there were no trials identified which evaluated the role of antibiotic prophylaxis in this group of patients in this setting. All of the trials included in this review included healthy patients undergoing extraction of impacted third molars, often performed by oral surgeons. There is evidence that prophylactic antibiotics reduce the risk of infection, dry socket and pain following third molar extraction and result in an increase in mild and transient adverse effects. It is unclear whether the evidence in this review is generalisable to those with concomitant illnesses or immunodeficiency, or those undergoing the extraction of teeth due to severe caries or periodontitis. However, patients at a higher risk of infection are more likely to benefit from prophylactic antibiotics, because infections in this group are likely to be more frequent, associated with complications and be more difficult to treat. Due to the increasing prevalence of bacteria which are resistant to treatment by currently available antibiotics, clinicians should consider carefully whether treating 12 healthy patients with antibiotics to prevent one infection is likely to do more harm than good.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / adverse effects
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Antibiotic Prophylaxis* / adverse effects
  • Controlled Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Dry Socket / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Molar, Third / surgery*
  • Pain, Postoperative / prevention & control
  • Tooth Extraction / adverse effects*
  • Tooth, Impacted / surgery*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents