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Prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications can negatively impact your general and dental health.
Common dental health problems that can occur as a side effect of everyday medications include:
It’s important to tell your dentist which medications you’re taking to ensure you receive the best care possible.
For example, certain SSRIs can increase the likelihood of developing bruxism (habitual teeth grinding and jaw clenching). Bruxism can be at the root of many dental problems and is diagnosed during a professional dental exam.
Some stimulant medications can also alter the processing of neurotransmitters by the central nervous system. With long-term use, this can lead to a reduction in saliva production (dry mouth), which causes tooth decay and gum disease.
If you have chronic conditions or illnesses, inform your dentist before or during your next appointment.
Taking any medication comes with the risk of side effects, some of which relate to oral health. These side effects can include:
Some of these diseases are harmless, while others can indicate more serious health conditions.
Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, is an uncomfortable side effect of certain medications that commonly affects older adults.
Xerostomia is an oral condition in which the salivary glands in the mouth don’t produce enough saliva to keep the mouth wet.
Saliva is essential for cavity protection because it repairs tooth enamel through remineralization and removes plaque. As saliva production decreases, oral dryness is more likely to occur, which can result in tooth decay or tooth loss.
Untreated xerostomia can lead to bad breath, gum disease, and painful mouth sores. It can also cause dental erosion, a chemical process that results in the loss of dental tissue.
Many medications can cause xerostomia, either as a direct side effect or as the consequence of a side effect (such as bruxism).
The most common drugs that may result in the condition include:
There are many medications, not necessarily prescription drugs, that can cause xerostomia.
Saliva helps prevent cavities and xerostomia and chewing gum is a great way to stimulate saliva production. However, you'll need to ensure the gum is sugar-free to not inadvertently feed 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.
Oral thrush (oral candidiasis) is a yeast infection that forms due to the overgrowth of Candida fungus that lives in the mucous membrane lining of 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 doesn’t overgrow.
The most common indication of thrush is creamy white 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’re taking medications that increase your risk for dry mouth, oral thrush can develop over time.
Medications that can also cause thrush include:
There are plenty of prescription drugs around that cause dental problems, including tooth decay, as a side effect.
The medications that cause dry mouth as a side effect often also cause cavities, as there’s a high degree of interconnectivity between the two conditions.
The pharmaceutical drugs that can produce side effects specifically impacting tooth enamel include:
Cough drops, chewable vitamins, syrups-based medications, and other liquid medications often contain sugar. The long-term use of medications with sugar can result in tooth decay.
If possible, switch to sugar-free alternative medications to help prevent tooth decay (especially in children).
Brushing with fluoride toothpaste twice a day and flossing regularly is essential. You should also visit the dentist for professional teeth cleanings every six months.
Certain prescription medications are linked to mouth sores, tissue discoloration, and gum inflammation.
Contact your dentist immediately if you experience soft-tissue inflammation after taking any of these medications. 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:
Chemotherapy (chemo) is the most widely-used cancer treatment, using a cocktail of chemicals and immunosuppressant drugs to kill cancer cells. There are many negative side effects of chemo.
Hair loss, weight loss, vomiting, and nausea are common side effects.
Chemotherapy treatment can also cause a variety of dental 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:
One of the best ways to reduce your chances of developing dental health issues from medication is to take preventative measures in your diet.
You can drink chamomile, lavender, and valerian tea or turmeric milk to help relieve the symptoms of bruxism.
In addition to dry mouth, bruxism (habitual teeth grinding and jaw clenching) is one of several dental health issues SSRI use can cause. It's most common in women and children.
Bruxism can lead to dental problems, including jaw pain, tooth damage, and tooth sensitivity.
Herbal medications that you can use to treat bruxism include:
Flexeril is a muscle relaxant that you shouldn’t use to treat tooth pain. If you feel pain in your tooth, it may be due to problems with the nerve.
A dentist, however, may prescribe Flexeril to a person experiencing jaw tension to help relax the jaw muscles. This may have the effect, inadvertently, of relieving any tooth pain that’s the result of jaw clenching.
Some high blood pressure medications, like calcium channel blockers, can cause gum overgrowth.
Inflamed gum tissue can mean extra room for bacteria to grow underneath the gum line. Gingivitis, when left untreated, can progress into periodontal disease.
Periodontal disease is a serious inflammation of the gum tissue that can lead to periodontitis, which can result in enamel loss and gum recession to the extent of complete tooth loss.
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