Should I take antibiotics for a gum or tooth infection?

Reviewed by:
Dr. Robert Kwok
Director of Health Informatics
Last updated on November 29, 2021

If you have a gum or tooth infection, you want relief fast. And you may be thinking an antibiotic is the way to go.

As with most medical issues, however, the answer isn’t always that clear-cut. There are a handful of things you’ll want to consider and discuss with your doctor (and a dentist) before you try a prescription antibiotic.

Here are some insights from our network of 90,000+ doctors.

Antibiotics alone won’t cure a tooth infection

“The source of the infection has to be removed,” says Dr. Daniel Sampson. “This involves removing decay, sometimes a root canal or periodontal cleaning, or an extraction.”

For this reason, it’s best to see your dentist, or, if you’re waiting on an appointment, talk about your options with your Primary Care online doctor. Only a doctor or dentist can prescribe you antibiotics.

Don’t wait to see a dentist

Even if you’ve been prescribed antibiotics, we must reiterate the previous section: antibiotics alone won’t cure your tooth infection.

“Tooth pain won't go away without treatment and the infection may spread to your jaw, cheeks, sinus, and to other areas of your head, brain and neck,” says Dr. Paul Grin. “See your dentist ASAP.”

Antibiotics don’t always help

“If you have an abscess, the antibiotics treat the bacteria outside the tooth,” says Dr. Theodore Davantzis. “You will need root canal therapy to treat the bacteria inside the tooth.”

Dr. Gary Sandler agrees: “The combination of your dentist's treatment, your body's own defense mechanisms, and antibiotics in combination can resolve an infection.”

Have more questions? We can help

Schedule an appointment with your Primary Care doctor, or post your own anonymous health question and receive an answer within 24 hours.

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HealthTap Editors

HealthTap Editors

HealthTap articles are reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Visit https://www.healthtap.com/about-doctors/ to learn more and meet some of the medical editorial board members behind our blog. The information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. HealthTap is a virtual-first, affordable urgent- and primary-care clinic, providing top-quality physician care nationwide to Americans with or without insurance. Our proprietary, easy-to-use, and innovative apps and electronic medical record apply Silicon Valley standards to effectively engage consumers and doctors online to increase the equity, accessibility, and efficiency of ongoing medical care for consumers, providers, employers, and payers. In addition, with HealthTap, businesses can offer virtual primary care to employees for less than the cost of free coffee. HealthTap's US-based board-certified physicians are available throughout North America. For more information, visit www.healthtap.com.
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