Antibiotics/Antimicrobials for Gum Disease


Generic Name Brand Name
chlorhexidine gluconate Peridex, Periogard
clindamycin Cleocin
doxycycline Periostat
metronidazole Flagyl
triclosan Colgate Total toothpaste

Sustained-release antibiotics

Generic Name Brand Name
chlorhexidine gluconate PerioChip
doxycycline hyclate Atridox
minocycline Arestin

How It Works

Antibiotics kill bacteria. Plaque contains bacteria, so antibiotics will reduce the amount of plaque in your mouth. This can reverse gum disease and allow your gums to heal.

Dentists prescribe antibiotics in different forms to treat gum disease. They can be applied directly on the gums (topical), swallowed as pills or capsules, swished around on your teeth as mouthwash, or inserted into the pockets of advanced gum disease. Some medicated toothpastes contain an antibacterial ingredient that reduces plaque and gingivitis when used regularly. Ask your dentist if this type of product would help you.

Why It Is Used

  • To reduce bacteria in your mouth, antibiotic mouthwash may be prescribed for use after brushing and flossing.
  • Topical antibiotics may be prescribed to treat early-stage gum disease (gingivitis) that cannot be slowed by improved brushing and flossing habits.
  • Topical antibiotics may be prescribed to treat mild forms of advanced gum disease (periodontitis).
  • Sustained-release antibiotics may be inserted into the gum pocket for periodontitis.
  • Antibiotic pills or capsules may be prescribed to treat moderate to severe periodontitis.

How Well It Works

If antibiotic treatment is combined with proper brushing and flossing habits, gum disease can sometimes be stopped. Then gums can become pink and healthy again.

Side Effects

Some possible side effects of antibiotic pills include:

  • Shortness of breath.
  • Puffiness or swelling around the face.
  • Rash.
  • Bad taste in the mouth.
  • Upset stomach.
  • Diarrhea.

Sometimes switching to a different medicine will reduce or end these side effects.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Antibiotic mouthwashes should not be swallowed but swished around in your mouth and then spit out.

Bacteria that cause disease can become resistant to medicines used to treat those diseases or illnesses. When this happens, the medicines are no longer effective at killing or controlling the bacteria that cause the disease. Be sure to take antibiotics exactly as they are prescribed and for the exact amount of time prescribed. And never use leftover antibiotics for a different illness.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Steven K. Patterson, BS, DDS, MPH - Dentistry
Last Revised August 5, 2011

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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