Antibiotic resistance – the biggest threat to modern man?

Humanity has come on leaps and bounds in medicine throughout the last 100 years. New knowledge, technological innovations and a continued drive towards better understanding of diseases and how they impact our health on different levels has propelled us into a golden age of health, where life expectancies are higher than ever before.

At the heart of this new age are antibiotics. Since penicillin was discovered by mistake in 1928 by Alexander Fleming and then developed into accessible medicine in the 1940s, antibiotics have grown to become an indispensable part of modern medicine, saving countless lives from diseases that would have previously been fatal. However, the liberal use of antibiotics to treat diseases has had one major drawback – antibiotic resistance.

What does antibiotic resistance mean?

In a nutshell, antibiotic resistance is when the bacteria evolve so that they can survive exposure to targeted antibiotics. This means that illnesses have been mutating to form new strains that are able to withstand antibiotic treatment, leaving scientists desperate to find alternative medicines to deal with certain diseases before they spread.

This, in turn, leads to a number of problems for patients, including longer hospital stays, higher medical costs if they are being treated privately, as well as increased mortality rates.[i] Furthermore, all it would take is one nasty disease to develop an unbeatable immunity for it to become a big problem, possibly reaching pandemic proportions if not managed properly and putting the global population at risk.

A variety of causes

So what causes antibiotic resistance? One of the main problems with this phenomenon is that there is no single cause. Bacteria are surprisingly complex organisms, and when faced with the threat of eradication, can react in various ways to resist being destroyed. Research has proven a direct correlation between antibiotic consumption and rising levels of resistance. As more bacteria are being targeted by these drugs, these pathogens are learning to adapt, mutating to develop resistance and then passing this resilience to other bacteria in the same family, sometimes even spreading defence mechanisms across to strains of bacteria in different families as well.[ii]

Therefore, over-prescription of antibiotic medicines is a prime reason for the modern day crisis. The more people who are receiving and using antibiotics to combat illnesses, the more opportunity bacteria have to adapt and evolve, resulting in incurable strains. Much of this problem stems from various medical organisations across the world handing out medicines too generously. Data examining the NHS found that 9 out of 10 GPs felt pressured to prescribe antibiotics to their patients, and that 97% of patients received antibiotics when they asked for them, even if these medicines would likely make no difference to their illness.[iii]

Another reason for the increase in resistance to antibiotics is the fact that many of these drugs are widely used in the agricultural industry. Throughout the world it’s common practice to feed livestock these drugs so that they can live longer, be healthier and produce better quality by-products/meat. Bacteria in animals start to develop the same resistance as bacteria in humans, and once we consume the meat, these bacteria are transferred directly into our bodies, often causing adverse health conditions.[iv]

Lastly, antibiotic resistance is on the rise simply because it is becoming more difficult to develop drugs that can effectively kill bacteria. There are only a certain number of effective drug cocktails that will work against specific strains of bacteria, and once pathogens have formed a resistance to these, it leaves very few options going forward. Furthermore, regulatory barriers may have also exacerbated the problem, as even if an effective new drug is created, sometimes it’s a struggle to get them approved. This may be due to reasons such as varying performances in clinical trials, changes in licensing rules and even ineffective communication.

Bringing it back to dentistry

So what can dental professionals do to help stem the rising figures of antibiotic resistance? This really comes back to prevention rather than cure. If diseases are controlled from spreading, it follows that less people will be asking for antibiotics and these pathogens have less opportunity to adapt.

Dental practices are a prime suspect when it comes to illnesses spreading, so professionals need to do all in their power to ensure that infection control and decontamination is achieved as rigorously as possible throughout the practice. For instruments this means that you’ll need a reliable autoclave such as the new Little Sister SES 2020N from Eschmann.

Keeping the future safe

Antibiotic resistance is a very real threat. However, by doing all you can to keep your practice free from disease, you can prevent illnesses from spreading, helping to lower the amount of antibiotics being prescribed.

For more information on the highly effective and affordable range of decontamination equipment and products from Eschmann, please visit www.eschmann.co.uk or call 01903 753322



[i] World Health Organization. Antibiotic Resistance. Link: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/antibiotic-resistance [Last accessed March 19].

 

[ii] Ventola, C. The Antibiotic Crisis. P T. 2015 Apr; 40(4): 277–283.

 

[iii] National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Calls for NHS to Curb Inappropriate Antibiotic Prescribing. Link: https://www.nice.org.uk/news/article/calls-for-nhs-to-curb-inappropriate-antibiotic-prescribing [Last accessed March 19].

 

[iv] Ventola, C. The Antibiotic Crisis. P T. 2015 Apr; 40(4): 277–283.