With the discovery of antibiotics, we have been able to control, and in some instances eradicate, infections caused by a myriad of bacterial pathogens. Unfortunately, over the past eighty or so years of use, many common bacterial infections have become resistant to the more widely used antibiotics like penicillin and tetracycline. In fact, tetracycline is now seldom prescribed for acute infections since it is no longer broadly effective.
In dentistry, penicillin is still the drug of choice, but it too has become less effective. Penicillin may have become less effective for two reasons: overuse and the common practice of not taking all of the medication for the full duration of the prescription. Patients will often tell me that they have some "left over from last time" or from some other problem. Patients usually stop taking the pills prescribed because the symptoms have disappeared. Unfortunately, when a person does not take the entire amount of antibiotic prescribed, some bacteria are left alive in their system. These surviving strains of bacteria are stronger than those bacteria already killed by the antibiotic. With so much more "room" left to multiply, they begin making the person a host for bacteria resistant to the previously prescribed antibiotic. In turn, these strains of bacteria are less likely to be killed by the next prescription of the same antibiotic. If the person allows this to happen again by not completing their prescription of antibiotic, the body will now be host to extremely resistant strains of bacteria. There is then a chance that the next application of the same antibiotic may do nothing at all!
Therefore, it's very important to take the proper dosage of antibiotic and to take the antibiotic for the full length of time prescribed, even if you feel completely well. Taking the medications for the full amount of time which is usually ten days, will ensure killing all the bacteria, both weak and resistant strains.
If you are currently taking an antibiotic, and have any questions or problems you should contact the dispensing office or pharmacy immediately.