Pediatric Heart Health: Antibiotic Prophylaxis for Dental Procedures

By Kathy O’Loughlin, DMD, MPH, American Dental Association

Did you know that regular visits to the dentist and good oral hygiene can prevent most dental disease? That’s why the American Dental Association recommends that kids start visiting the dentist after their first baby tooth appears, or no later than their first birthday, and then continue to see their dentist regularly.

At times physicians and dentists recommend that a patient take antibiotics before certain dental procedures. This is called antibiotic prophylaxis or preventive antibiotics. But why do healthcare providers suggest this extra step?

We all have bacteria in our mouths, and a number of dental treatments—and even daily routines like chewing, brushing or flossing—can allow bacteria to enter the bloodstream. For most of us, this isn’t a problem. A healthy immune system prevents these bacteria from causing harm. However, for people with certain specific health issues these bacteria can cause an infection elsewhere in the body.

That is why preventive antibiotics are recommended for people who have specific heart conditions, which includes only certain congenital heart problems. The American Heart Association has guidelines identifying those who should take antibiotics prior to dental care.

What can you do to keep your child healthy?

  • Your dentist needs to know your child’s full medical history. Tell your dentist about any changes in your child’s health since his or her last visit and make sure he or she knows about all medications your child is taking.
  • With this information in hand, your dentist can talk to you and your child’s physician about whether preventive antibiotics are recommended for your child.
  • Good home care is key to good dental health. Be sure that your child brushes twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, cleans between his or her teeth once a day, eats a balanced diet, and visits the dentist regularly.

Talk to your dentist if you have any questions about antibiotic prophylaxis. Learn more about dental health at


Kathy O’Loughlin, DMD, MPH, is the executive director of the Chicago-based American Dental Association, the nation’s leading advocate for oral health.

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