Antibiotic prophylaxis for preventing bacterial endocarditis following dental procedures

Samantha J Rutherford, Anne-Marie Glenny (Lead / Corresponding author), Graham Roberts, Lee Hooper, Helen V. Worthington

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: Infective endocarditis is a severe infection arising in the lining of the chambers of the heart. It can be caused by fungi, but most often is caused by bacteria. Many dental procedures cause bacteraemia, which could lead to bacterial endocarditis in a small proportion of people. The incidence of bacterial endocarditis is low, but it has a high mortality rate. Guidelines in many countries have recommended that antibiotics be administered to people at high risk of endocarditis prior to invasive dental procedures. However, guidance by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in England and Wales states that antibiotic prophylaxis against infective endocarditis is not recommended routinely for people undergoing dental procedures. This is an update of a review that we first conducted in 2004 and last updated in 2013.


Primary objective

To determine whether prophylactic antibiotic administration, compared to no antibiotic administration or placebo, before invasive dental procedures in people at risk or at high risk of bacterial endocarditis, influences mortality, serious illness or the incidence of endocarditis.

Secondary objectives To determine whether the effect of dental antibiotic prophylaxis differs in people with different cardiac conditions predisposing them to increased risk of endocarditis, and in people undergoing different high risk dental procedures.


Had we found no evidence from randomised controlled trials or cohort studies on whether prophylactic antibiotics affected mortality or serious illness, and we had found evidence from these or case-control studies suggesting that prophylaxis with antibiotics reduced the incidence of endocarditis, then we would also have assessed whether the harms of prophylaxis with single antibiotic doses, such as with penicillin (amoxicillin 2 g or 3 g) before invasive dental procedures, compared with no antibiotic or placebo, equalled the benefits in prevention of endocarditis in people at high risk of this disease.

Search methods: An information specialist searched four bibliographic databases up to 10 May 2021 and used additional search methods to identify published, unpublished and ongoing studies

Selection criteria: Due to the low incidence of bacterial endocarditis, we anticipated that few if any trials would be located. For this reason, we included cohort and case-control studies with suitably matched control or comparison groups. The intervention was antibiotic prophylaxis, compared to no antibiotic prophylaxis or placebo, before a dental procedure in people with an increased risk of bacterial endocarditis. Cohort studies would need to follow at-risk individuals and assess outcomes following any invasive dental procedures, grouping participants according to whether or not they had received prophylaxis. Case-control studies would need to match people who had developed endocarditis after undergoing an invasive dental procedure (and who were known to be at increased risk before undergoing the procedure) with those at similar risk who had not developed endocarditis.

Our outcomes of interest were mortality or serious adverse events requiring hospital admission; development of endocarditis following any dental procedure in a defined time period; development of endocarditis due to other non-dental causes; any recorded adverse effects of the antibiotics; and the cost of antibiotic provision compared to that of caring for patients who developed endocarditis.

Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently screened search records, selected studies for inclusion, assessed the risk of bias in the included study and extracted data from the included study. As an author team, we judged the certainty of the evidence identified for the main comparison and key outcomes using GRADE criteria. We presented the main results in a summary of findings table.

Main results: Our new search did not find any new studies for inclusion since the last version of the review in 2013. No randomised controlled trials (RCTs), controlled clinical trials (CCTs) or cohort studies were included in the previous versions of the review, but one case-control study met the inclusion criteria. The trial authors collected information on 48 people who had contracted bacterial endocarditis over a specific two-year period and had undergone a medical or dental procedure with an indication for prophylaxis within the past 180 days. These people were matched to a similar group of people who had not contracted bacterial endocarditis. All study participants had undergone an invasive medical or dental procedure. The two groups were compared to establish whether those who had received preventive antibiotics (penicillin) were less likely to have developed endocarditis. The authors found no significant effect of penicillin prophylaxis on the incidence of endocarditis. No data on other outcomes were reported. The level of certainty we have about the evidence is very low.

Authors' conclusions: There remains no clear evidence about whether antibiotic prophylaxis is effective or ineffective against bacterial endocarditis in at-risk people who are about to undergo an invasive dental procedure. We cannot determine whether the potential harms and costs of antibiotic administration outweigh any beneficial effect. Ethically, practitioners should discuss the potential benefits and harms of antibiotic prophylaxis with their patients before a decision is made about administration.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberCD003813
Number of pages26
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 10 May 2022


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents/therapeutic use
  • Antibiotic Prophylaxis/adverse effects
  • Dentistry
  • Endocarditis, Bacterial/drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Penicillins/therapeutic use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)


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