For years, doctors have advised people with prosthetic joints to take antibiotics before visiting the dentist. This has led to the mistaken impression that dental visits are risky for people with replacement joints.
However, the opposite is true. Dental visits can reduce your risk of developing an infection at your replacement joint. Dental visits aren’t associated with increased risk of prosthetic joint infection (PJI). Dental visits are associated with elevated blood bacteria, but so are many common activities like brushing your teeth. Overall, making regular preventive visits can reduce your risk of PJI.
Dental Visits Aren’t Associated with PJI
The guidance that people should get preventive antibiotics before dental visits is outdated. Last year, the American Dental Association (ADA) revisited these guidelines, and stated that there was no evidence to support taking antibiotics before dental visits.
Although they only looked at four recent studies, the ADA panel decided that these studies were so consistent that showed no basis for preventive antibiotics. That’s because three out of the four studies showed no association between dental visits and PJI. The fourth actually showed regular dental visits reduced the risk of PJI.
Everyday Activities Put Bacteria in Your Blood
One of the things that people and their doctors forget about bacteremia–elevated levels of bacteria in the blood–is that these aren’t just caused by dental visits. Although procedures like dental cleanings and extractions can elevate the level of bacteria in the blood, so can brushing, flossing, and even eating, especially if you have gum disease.
A study has shown that both extractions and toothbrushing can elevate bacteria levels in the blood for over an hour after the event. An extraction raises the bacteria levels higher, but we brush our teeth every day. This leads some to conclude that the real risk of joint infection comes from having gum disease, a fertile source of oral bacteria in the mouth.
Dental Cleanings Can Lower Joint Infection Risk
We can see the benefit of regular dental visits in a nationwide study on prosthetic knee infections. In this study, which looked at nearly 1300 total knee arthroplasty (knee replacement) procedures, seeing the dentist for cleanings more often lowered joint infection risk. Those who saw their dentist at least once in the previous three years had a 20% lower infection risk. And those who saw their dentist every six months had a 31% lower risk of knee infection.
Protect Your Joints: See the Dentist
If you’ve had one or more joints replaced, it’s not smart to avoid the dentist. Instead, visiting the dentist can help protect your joints from infection risk as well as improving your overall health.