Medications and Oral Health

Medications are a part of modern life that save lives and increase our quality of life. In fact, nearly half of all Americans are on at least one medication and for those who do take medications, the average is four separate prescriptions.


The miracle of modern medications is well known, but possibly less known is the first thing taught in pharmacology classes – every medication has side effects. Physicians must determine whether the benefit of a drug outweighs the side effect risks and work with patients to understand how the drug is affecting them.


The goal of this article is to raise awareness of the side effects that can affect oral health so you can take measures to counter them or have conversations with your physician or dentist regarding how to manage them.


Dry mouth is the most common side effect of medications which can lead to an increase in tooth decay and gum disease. This is quite frustrating as many patients are doing everything they can with brushing, flossing, and controlling sugar intake but will continue to have cavities. There are around 400 medications that have dry mouth listed as a side effect and if taking more than one medication the risk can multiply for every medication added. A few tips to decrease the effects include using artificial saliva products, sipping water often, and using sugar free candies or gum to stimulate saliva production.

A lesser-known side effect of teeth grinding has become more evident with the increase in antidepressant use, including several of the most common antidepressants such as Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft. It is recommended to wear a mouthguard to protect teeth from chipping and fracturing if you experience grinding. If severe, discuss with your physician if there is an alternative medication that may be used.

Other common side effects that affect oral health include increase in bleeding, swollen gums, mouth sores, altered taste, bone loss, increased risk of infection, and discoloration of the gums. No discussion about medication is complete without discussing the fact that herbal supplements, vitamins, and minerals also have side effects. Due to the many potential side effects, make sure you share a complete list of medications and supplements with your dentist. Some side effects can be dangerous such as excess bleeding which in combination with a surgical procedure could lead to hospitalization.


The way you take medications and supplements also has side effects. Gummies are a common carrier these days and many have sugar and stick to teeth leading to an increase in tooth decay. This is a high risk for children who are given gummy vitamins or regular medications with grape juice or similar. Be sure to consider what order you take these so you aren’t intaking sugar after you brush your teeth.


Given how many medications and side effects that exist, this article barely brushes the topic. When you start a new medication check the drug insert or discuss the potential side effects with your physician or dentist if you have noticed any changes or are concerned.

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