Antibiotic prescribing by dentists has increased: Why?

J Am Dent Assoc. 2016 May;147(5):320-7. doi: 10.1016/j.adaj.2015.12.014. Epub 2016 Feb 5.


Background: Although the overall rate of antibiotic prescribing has been declining in British Columbia, Canada, the authors conducted a study to explain the increased rate of prescribing by dentists.

Methods: The authors obtained anonymized, line-listed data on outpatient prescriptions from 1996 to 2013 from a centralized, population-based prescription database, including a variable coding prescriber licensing body. Analyses used Anatomical Therapeutic Classification standard codes and defined daily dose (DDD) values. The authors normalized prescribing rates to the population and expressed the rates in DDDs per 1,000 inhabitants per day (DID). The Canadian Dental Association released a webinar that invited correspondence from dentists about the drivers of the trend.

Results: From 1996 to 2013, overall antibiotic use declined from 18.24 DID to 15.91 DID, and physician prescribing declined 18.2%, from 17.25 DID to 14.11 DID. However, dental prescribing increased 62.2%, from 0.98 DID to 1.59 DID, and its proportionate contribution increased from 6.7% to 11.3% of antibiotic prescriptions. The rate of prescribing increased the most for dental patients 60 years or older. Communication from dentists in Canada and the United States identified the following explanatory themes: unnecessary prescriptions for periapical abscess and irreversible pulpitis; increased prescribing associated with dental implants and their complications; slow adoption of guidelines calling for less perioperative antibiotic coverage for patients with valvular heart disease and prosthetic joints; emphasis on cosmetic practices reducing the surgical skill set of average dentists; underinsurance practices driving antibiotics to be a substitute for surgery; the aging population; and more dental registrants per capita.

Conclusions: Emerging themes for dental prescribing should be explored further in future studies; however, themes already identified may guide priorities in antibiotic stewardship for continuing dental education sessions.

Practical implications: Antibiotic prescribing should be reviewed to make sure that we are compliant with guidelines. Most practitioners will find opportunities to prescribe less often and for shorter durations.

Keywords: Antibiotics; antimicrobial stewardship; dentists; prescribing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Antibiotic Prophylaxis*
  • Canada
  • Dentists
  • Education, Dental, Continuing
  • Humans
  • Practice Patterns, Dentists'*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents