Myth of the Month

Antibiotic prophylaxis for artificial joints


A 66-year-old woman 3 years status post hip replacement is seen for dental work. The dentist contacts the clinic for an antibiotic prescription. The patient has a penicillin allergy (rash). What do you recommend?

A. Clindamycin one dose before dental work.

B. Amoxicillin one dose before dental work.

C. Amoxicillin one dose before, one dose 4 hours after dental work.

D. Clindamycin one dose before dental work, one dose 4 hours after dental work.

E. No antibiotics.

Many patients with prosthetic joints will request antibiotics to take prior to dental procedures. Sometimes this request comes from the dental office.

When I ask patients why they feel they need antibiotics, they often reply that they were told by their orthopedic surgeons or their dentist that they would need to take antibiotics before dental procedures.

In an era when Clostridium difficile infection is a common and dangerous complication in the elderly, avoidance of unnecessary antibiotics is critical. In the United States, it is estimated that there are 240,000 patients infected with C. difficile annually, with 24,000 deaths at a cost of $6 billion.1

Is there compelling evidence to justify giving antibiotic prophylaxis for dental procedures to patients with prosthetic joints?

Dr. Douglas S. Paauw

The majority of prosthetic joint infections are due to Staphylococcus aureus, whereas the majority of bacteremias from dental procedures are due to streptococcus.1,2 Bacteremias following simple everyday activities such as tooth brushing and chewing occur.3

This information has called into question the wisdom of giving antibiotic prophylaxis for dental procedures when the same patients have transient bacteremias as a regular part of day-to-day life, and mouth organisms were infrequent causes of prosthetic joint infections.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) and the American Dental Association (ADA) released an advisory statement 20 years ago on antibiotic prophylaxis for patients with dental replacements, which concluded: “Antibiotic prophylaxis is not indicated for dental patients with pins, plates, and screws, nor is it routinely indicated for most dental patients with total joint replacements.”4

In 2003, the AAOS and the ADA released updated guidelines that stated: “Presently, no scientific evidence supports the position that antibiotic prophylaxis to prevent hematogenous infections is required prior to dental treatment in patients with total joint prostheses. The risk/benefit and cost/effectiveness ratios fail to justify the administration of routine antibiotics.”5

Great confusion arose in 2009 when the AAOS published a position paper on its website that reversed this position.6 Interestingly, the statement was done by the AAOS alone, and not done in conjunction with the ADA.

In this position paper, the AAOS recommended that health care providers consider antibiotic prophylaxis prior to invasive procedures on all patients who had prosthetic joints, regardless of how long those joints have been in place. This major change in recommendations was not based on any new evidence that had been reviewed since the 2003 guidelines.

There are two studies that address outcome of patients with prosthetic joints who have and have not received prophylactic antibiotics.

Elie Berbari, MD, and colleagues reported on the results of a prospective case-control study comparing patients with prosthetic joints hospitalized with hip or knee infections with patients who had prosthetic joints hospitalized at the same time who did not have hip or knee infections.7

There was no increased risk of prosthetic hip or knee infection for patients undergoing a dental procedure who were not receiving antibiotic prophylaxis (odds ratio, 0.8; 95% confidence interval, 0.4-1.6), compared with the risk for patients not undergoing a dental procedure (OR, 0.6; 95% CI, 0.4-1.1). Antibiotic prophylaxis in patients undergoing high and low risk dental procedures did not decrease the risk of prosthetic joint infections.

In 2012, the AAOS and the ADA published updated guidelines with the following summary recommendation: “The practitioner might consider discontinuing the practice of routinely prescribing prophylactic antibiotics for patients with hip and knee prosthetic joint implants undergoing dental procedures.”8 They referenced the Berbari study as the best available evidence.

Feng-Chen Kao, MD, and colleagues published a study this year with a design very similar to the Berbari study, with similar results.9 All Taiwanese residents who had received hip or knee replacements over a 12-year period were screened. Those who had received dental procedures were matched with individuals who had not had dental procedures. The dental procedure group was subdivided into a group that received antibiotics and one that didn’t.

There was no difference in infection rates between the group that had received dental procedures and the group that did not, and no difference in infection rates between those who received prophylactic antibiotics and those who didn’t.

I think this myth can be put to rest. There is no evidence to give patients with joint prostheses prophylactic antibiotics before dental procedures.


1. Steckelberg J.M., Osmon D.R. Prosthetic joint infections. In: Bisno A.L., Waldvogel F.A., eds. Infections associated with indwelling medical devices. Third ed., Washington, D.C.: American Society of Microbiology Press, 2000:173-209.

2. J Dent Res. 2004 Feb;83(2):170-4.

3. J Clin Periodontol. 2006 Feb;33(6):401-7.

4. J Am Dent Assoc. 1997 Jul;128(7):1004-8.

5. J Am Dent Assoc. 2003 Jul;134(7):895-9.

6. Spec Care Dentist. 2009 Nov-Dec;29(6):229-31.

7. Clin Infect Dis. 2010 Jan 1;50(1):8-16.

8. J Dent (Shiraz). 2013 Mar;14(1):49-52.

9. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol. 2017 Feb;38(2):154-61.

Dr. Paauw is professor of medicine in the division of general internal medicine at the University of Washington, Seattle, and he serves as third-year medical student clerkship director at the University of Washington. Contact Dr. Paauw at [email protected].

Next Article: