Bacterial endocarditis is an infection that occurs when bacteria enter the bloodstream. These bacteria can enter the bloodstream in many ways; one common way is through infection of the gums (periodontitis) or teeth (cavities). Failing to maintain good dental hygiene, in conjunction with inflamed, bleeding gums, can increase the risk for bacteremia, or bacteria in the blood. Professional dental treatment that causes bleeding (such as cleaning below the gum line or the extraction of teeth) can also allow bacteria to enter the bloodstream.
Usually, bacteria are destroyed by normal body defenses once they enter the bloodstream and circulate through the body. However, if they manage to find a place to settle, an infection can develop. The infection has different names depending on its location; when it is in the heart, it is referred to as endocarditis.
Children who have congenital heart problems are at greater risk of developing endocarditis than others. This infection can lead to serious damage to the heart. At Islands Pediatric Dentistry, antibiotics may be prescribed to help boost a child’s normal body defenses and destroy bacteria before they can settle in the heart and cause any damage.
Antibiotics that are given immediately before teeth cleaning procedure (or other procedures that can potentially lead to bacteremia) help protect against infection. This is called SBE prophylaxis, or protection against sub-acute bacterial endocarditis. Patients who are at risk of bacterial infection are recommended to receive this protection each time they undergo any treatment that puts them at risk of bacteremia. The dosage is usually one dose of antibiotic administered one hour before the procedure. This provides sufficient protection for the duration of the treatment but keeps the child’s exposure to antibiotics at a minimum.
A good oral hygiene routine is recommended for all patients, but especially for those who are at risk for endocarditis. Not only is it beneficial for preventing dental issues in general, but it can prevent bacteria from entering the bloodstream. Parents are advised to be diligent about encouraging daily brushing and flossing to maintain healthy teeth and gums.
If your child is at risk for endocarditis, talk to your dentist at Islands Pediatric Dentistry about taking preventative steps.