Prescription and over-the-counter medications can negatively impact your general and oral health.
Common complications associated with everyday medications include irregular bleeding, changes in taste, soft-tissue reactions (sores), dry mouth, and enlarged gum tissue.
During routine dental exams, it is important to tell your dentist which medications you are taking to ensure you receive the best care possible.
If you currently have any chronic conditions or illnesses, let your dentist know before or during your next appointment.
Dry mouth, gum inflammation, mouth sores, cavities, and oral thrush are common conditions associated with many medications.
Some of these diseases are harmless, while others can be indicators of more serious health conditions.
Medication-induced dry mouth is an uncomfortable side effect that impacts many older adults.
Dry mouth (xerostomia) is an oral condition when the salivary glands in the mouth do not produce enough saliva to keep the mouth wet.
Saliva is essential for cavity protection because it repairs tooth enamel through remineralization and washes out plaque. As the production of saliva decreases, oral dryness is more likely to occur, which can result in decay or tooth loss.
Untreated dry mouth can lead to bad breath, gum disease, and painful mouth sores. It can also cause dental erosion, which is a chemical process that results in the loss of dental tissue.
There are thousands of everyday medications that can cause dry mouth. The most common prescription meds that may result in xerostomia include the following:
Other medications that can cause dry mouth include:
Certain prescription medications are linked to mouth sores, tissue discoloration, and inflammation.
If you experience soft-tissue inflammation after taking any of these meds, contact your dentist immediately. He or she can then create a custom oral hygiene regimen to help decrease discomfort and symptoms.
Medications that may cause oral ulcers and/or inflammation in the mouth include the following:
Oral thrush (oral candidiasis) is a yeast infection that forms due to the overgrowth of Candida fungus that lives in the mucous membranes lining in the mouth.
Most people have small traces of Candida in their mouths. For some, the fungi can overgrow and cause thrush. If you have a strong immune system, the fungus does not overgrow.
The most common sign of thrush is white spots (lesions) that wipe off and leave a red, raw base. These lesions can also develop on the palate, tongue, lining of the cheeks, or back of the lips.
If you are taking medications that increase your risk for dry mouth, oral thrush can develop over time.
Other medications that can also cause thrush include:
Cough drops, chewable vitamins, syrups, and other liquid medications often contain sugar. The long-term use of sweetened medications can result in tooth decay.
If possible, switch to sugar-free medications to help prevent decay (especially in children).
It is essential to brush with fluoride toothpaste twice a day and floss regularly. You should also visit the dentist for professional teeth cleanings every six months.
Other medications that can affect teeth health include:
Chemotherapy (chemo) is the most widely used cancer treatment that uses chemicals to kill cancer cells. However, there are many negative side effects of chemo.
Hair loss, weight loss, vomiting, and nausea are common side effects.
Chemo can also cause a variety of oral health side effects, including:
If you take any medications that can cause dry mouth or tooth decay, follow these tips to reduce your chance of oral disease:
Chewing gum stimulates the production of saliva, and saliva is a great cavity fighter. However, you'll need to make sure the gum is sugar-free so that you’re not inadvertently feeding the cavity-causing bacteria. The best chewing gum for fighting cavities is one containing the sweetener Xylitol. Xylitol is a plant-based sugar substitute that kills bacteria in the mouth.
Acid reflux (heartburn) can also damage your teeth and cause acid erosion. To reduce these effects, avoid or limit foods that trigger heartburn:
American Dental Association (ADA). June 2005. How Medications Can Affect Your Oral Health. https://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Publications/Files/patient_51.pdf?la=en
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Ichikawa, Kana, et al. “Relationships between the Amount of Saliva and Medications in Elderly Individuals.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 2 June 2010, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1741-2358.2009.00358.x.
Rubin, B K, and M Simunovic. “Medication Caries: Another Form of ‘Snacking.’” Canadian Family Physician Medecin De Famille Canadien, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Apr. 1989, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2280819/.
Tan, Edwin C. K., et al. “Medications That Cause Dry Mouth As an Adverse Effect in Older People: A Systematic Review and Metaanalysis.” American Geriatrics Society, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 26 Oct. 2017, agsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jgs.15151.