Endocarditis is an infection that can seriously damage heart valves and cause other serious complications. Most cases of endocarditis are caused by bacterial infection. The bacteria gets into the bloodstream. This may happen if you have an infection or wound in another part of your body. In particular dental and mouth infections are situations where bacteria can quite easily get into the bloodstream.
Whilst endocarditis is not common, some people have an increased risk of developing the infection. In these people good oral and dental hygiene is particularly important. Problems such as a dental abscess or gum disease which are left untreated increase the chances of bacteria getting into the bloodstream.
In March 2008 the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) published new guidance in this area which was a recommendation that the practice of prescribing antibiotics for at risk patients during dental and other procedures should end and that antibiotics should only be offered if a procedure was being carried out at a site where there is already a suspected infection.
This guidance has caused a lot of debate, particularly among dentists.