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Some people take antibiotics before dental procedures for various reasons such as a weakened immune system (from disease or other condition) and would like to minimize infection risks; others simply do so out of fear, which in most cases, is unfounded.
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Oral bacteria can enter your bloodstream any time there is bleeding in the mouth. In healthy people, the immune system usually destroys such bacteria creating no need for concern.
People with certain heart conditions however, may be at risk if they are exposed to these kinds of bacteria. For example, the bacteria may settle on malformed heart valves or muscle tissue that has been weakened by an existing heart problem or heart surgery. In these cases, the bacteria can cause a serious inflammation of the heart valves or tissues. This condition is known as bacterial endocarditis.
To reduce the risk of bacterial endocarditis, people with certain heart conditions may be given one dose of an antibiotic to take approximately one hour before dental procedures that are likely to cause oral bleeding.
It is important to tell your dentist that you have any heart condition before undertaking a dental procedure, including a simple exam. The American Heart Association has developed some guidelines on whether you could benefit from antibiotic prophylaxis. These guidelines can be viewed on the AHA Web site at www.americanheart.org.
If you have a heart murmur which is not a life-threatening condition, you may not have to take an oral antibiotic prior to a dental procedure. Not everyone who has a heart murmur is at risk for bacterial endocarditis.