How medications affect oral health

Many medications—both those prescribed by your doctor and the ones you buy on your own—affect your oral health.

The medicines we take sometimes affect our oral health. We know that medicine can have side effects, but how they affect our oral health might not seem like an important consideration. This simply is not true.

Oral health has a major impact on our overall health, as studies continue to reveal. The medications you might be taking that are bringing you relief for other health issues could be causing dry mouth or other problems.

Which Medications?

The next time you take a pill, ask yourself this question: What will this medicine do to my mouth and teeth?

Generally speaking, medicines are designed to make you feel better. But all drugs, whether taken by mouth or injected, come with a risk of side effects, and hundreds of drugs are known to cause mouth (oral) problems. Medicines used to treat cancer, high blood pressure, severe pain, depression, allergies, and even the common cold can have a negative impact on your dental health.

That’s why your dentist, not just your doctor, should always know about all the medications you are taking, including over-the-counter products, vitamins (chewable as well), herbs, and supplements and similar products.

Oral Side Effects of Medications

Many medications, both those prescribed by your doctor and the ones you buy on your own, affect your oral health. These medications include some that are used to treat depression and anxiety, pain, antihistamines, decongestants, diarrhea, and Parkinson’s disease and cancer. Some of the most common side effects are as follows:

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth is the most common oral side effect of some medications people take, and it is a serious problem. Saliva helps keep food from collecting around your teeth and neutralizes the acids produced by plaque. Those acids can damage the hard surfaces of your teeth. Dry mouth increases your risk of tooth decay.

More than 400 medications are known to cause dry mouth. Dry mouth is also a side effect of certain chemotherapy medicines. Some of the types of medications that will often produce dry mouth are as follows:



Pain Killers


High Blood Pressure Medications


Muscle Relaxants

Drugs for Urinary Incontinence

Parkinson’s Disease Medications

Dry mouth can be a bothersome problem. However, the benefits of using a medicine outweigh the risks and discomfort of dry mouth. If you have dry mouth, your dentist or doctor may recommend the use of artificial saliva products. These products are available over-the-counter in a rinse or spray.

Toothpastes, mouthwashes, and moisturizing gels that are specially formulated for dry mouth are also available; ask your dentist or doctor about these products. Drinking plenty of water or chewing sugarless gum may help relieve your symptoms.

Fungal Infection

Your soft oral tissues—gums, cheek lining, tongue—can be affected by medications as well. For example, people with breathing problems often use inhalers. Inhaling medication through your mouth can cause a fungal infection called oral candidiasis. Sometimes called thrush, this infection appears as white spots in your mouth and can be painful. Rinsing your mouth after using your inhaler may prevent this infection.

Taste-altering Medications

Some medications can cause a bitter or metallic taste or affect the ability to taste. Among them are cardiovascular agents, central nervous system stimulants, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as Advil and Motrin), respiratory inhalants and smoking-cessation products such as nicotine skin patches.

Other Medications and Conditions

Sugar is frequently part of liquid medications, cough drops, vitamins, antacid tablets and anti-fungal agents. People who receive long-term medication maybe at greater risk of developing tooth decay when they are using sweetened medications. Consider selecting sugar-free alternatives (if possible) and taking medication with a meal (if the medication may be taken with food). Children taking syrup-based medications, such as cough medicines, are left with a sticky, sweet residue in their mouths. Children, too, should be encouraged to rinse their mouths with water after taking the medication.

Cancer treatments also can affect oral health. If possible, see your dentist before beginning treatment. He or she can ensure that your mouth is healthy and, if necessary, can prescribe treatments to help you maintain good oral health.

Talk To Your Dentist

It is important that your dentist knows about your health history including any recent illnesses or chronic conditions you may have. Also let you dentist know any of the medications that you are taking, both prescription and over-the-counter prescriptions, so that he or she can provide the best dental care for you. Your dentist will be able to assist you in combating the many side effects of medications, and give you tips on what needs to be done to protect.


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