I’ve got toothache. Why won’t my dentist give me antibiotics?


Toothache is often caused by inflammation rather than infection. Analgesics such as paracetamol and ibuprofen treat inflammatory pain – antibiotics do not fix inflammation.

Even if you have a bacterial infection associated with a dead tooth (a dental abscess), antibiotics are not usually the right answer. Antibiotics cannot easily get inside the tooth to the root of the infection. The quickest fix is usually to remove the source of the infection using a dental procedure – there are various ways to do this which you should ask your dentist about. Even when antibiotics are required for a severe infection, they should be used along with a dental procedure. Taking antibiotics when they are not necessary increases the chance that they will not work for an infection (such as sepsis or pneumonia) when you really do need to them to work.

When you have toothache, visit your dentist who can diagnose the cause and offer you appropriate options for treatment. Doctors in GP practices or A&E are not able to diagnose toothache and you are likely to be in pain for longer than if you see a dentist. If you don’t have your own dentist, call NHS111 and they will be able to help you find someone who can provide the care you need.