Before you take any kind of medication – prescription, over-the-counter or herbal – you should find out about all of its possible side-effects, including whether it can affect your teeth and gums.
If medication is having a negative impact on your oral health, you should talk to your doctor or dentist about alternative options. Your dentist also needs to know about any medication you're taking before they can plan a dental treatment.
Following are some of the common oral health problems linked to certain types of medication.
Dry Mouth Syndrome
A side-effect of many pharmaceutical drugs is reduced saliva production, which can lead to dry mouth syndrome (xerostomia).
Saliva naturally hydrates and rinses your mouth, which helps to remove bacteria and food particles from the surfaces of your teeth, neutralises acids in your mouth and helps to remineralise your tooth enamel. When saliva flow is reduced, this increases your risk of oral health problems such as tooth decay and gum disease.
Dry mouth is often associated with antidepressants, antihistamines, beta blockers, inhalers and chemotherapy and Parkinson's medication.
Medication that's highly acidic, such as aspirin and certain asthma medications, can damage your teeth enamel through prolonged contact. These tablets should be swallowed as directed, never chewed or placed directly on your teeth or gums.
Medication that contains sugar, such as some cough syrups, can also stick to your teeth and increase the risk of decay. You should rinse your mouth with water soon after taking medicated syrups, but avoid brushing your teeth for at least an hour, as this may damage your teeth.
As well as dry mouth syndrome increasing your risk of gum disease, some medications have been linked with other gum problems, including oral contraceptives and immunosuppressive medications.
Other medications may cause your gums to swell and grow over your teeth (gingival hyperplasia). These include antihypertensives, calcium channel blockers and certain blood pressure and epilepsy medications.
Some medications that treat bone and joint issues such as bisphosphonates for osteoporosis, can increase the risk of ulcers and bone disease (osteonecrosis) in the jaw.
If you've taken bisphosphonates in the past, it's important that you tell your dentist, as this can cause problems with wound healing following dental surgery.
In large doses or with prolonged use, antibiotics and oral contraceptives can cause infections of the mouth, such as oral thrush.
Children's Medication and Oral Health
Children's teeth are especially vulnerable to damage while they're still developing, as the enamel layer is softer and thinner than in adults.
Some antibiotics should not be given to young children, as they can permanently stain their teeth yellow or brown.
Excess amounts of fluoride, such as swallowing toothpaste, can also cause children's teeth to become discoloured and produce white spots (fluorosis). Fluoride is safe in normal quantities however, and is recommended by dentists to help strengthen and protect teeth in people of all ages.
How can these problems be prevented?
If you think that a medication you're taking may be affecting your oral health, you should talk to your doctor or your dentist. They may be able to recommend alternative medications that aren't associated with these side-effects, or adjust your dose to a safer level.
If it's not possible to change your medication, your dentist can recommend preventive treatments to protect your teeth and gums against their effects, or restorative treatments to repair damage that may have already been done.
These treatments may include:
- Instructing you on how to improve your oral hygiene
- Professional fluoride treatments or an at-home mouthwash to help protect your teeth
- Fillings or crowns to restore damaged teeth
- Veneers to modify the appearance of your teeth
- Gum surgery to reduce swollen or overgrown gum tissue
Your dentist will explain any risks or side-effects that these treatments involve, so you can make an informed decision. It's important that you tell your dentist about any medication you're currently taking or have taken in the past, so they can recommend the most suitable treatments for you.
Find a dentist in Perth's northern suburbs
If you need to speak to a dentist about anything, or you're due for your next check-up, get in touch with Ocean Reef Dental Surgery.