Annals of Emergency Medicine

Antibiotic Prescriptions Associated With Dental-Related Emergency Department Visits

Rebecca M. Roberts,

Study objective

The frequency of antibiotic prescribing and types of antibiotics prescribed for dental conditions presenting to the emergency department (ED) is not well known. The objective of this study is to quantify how often and which dental diagnoses made in the ED resulted in an antibiotic prescription.


From 2011 to 2015, there were an estimated 2.2 million (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.9 to 2.5 million) ED visits per year for dental-related conditions, which accounted for 1.6% (95% CI 1.5% to 1.7%) of ED visits. This is based on an unweighted 2,125 observations from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey in which a dental-related diagnosis was made.


An antibiotic, most often a narrow-spectrum penicillin or clindamycin, was prescribed in 65% (95% CI 61% to 68%) of ED visits with any dental diagnosis. The most common dental diagnoses for all ages were unspecified disorder of the teeth and supporting structures (44%; 95% CI 41% to 48%; International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification[ICD-9-CM]code 525.9), periapical abscess without sinus (21%; 95% CI 18% to 25%; ICD-9-CM code 522.5), and dental caries (18%; 95% CI 15% to 22%; ICD-9-CM code 521.0). Recommended treatments for these conditions are usually dental procedures rather than antibiotics.


The common use of antibiotics for dental conditions in the ED may indicate the need for greater access to both preventive and urgent care from dentists and other related specialists as well as the need for clearer clinical guidance and provider education related to oral infections.

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