Completely You: Oral Care
How Your Meds Can Affect Your Mouth
By Stacey Colino for Completely You
You’re probably well aware of side effects like stomach upset that many medicines can cause. But how your meds affect your mouth is also important — mouth health impacts overall body health.
Yet most people don’t realize this, says Dr. Gigi Meinecke, a dentist in Potomac, Md., and a spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry. What’s more, “patients are very selective about what they tell dentists about the medications they’re taking because they consider it a private matter,” adds Dr. Meinecke. “But we can better care for you if we know what you’re taking.”
Below, we rounded up the five most common oral side effects of medications, along with advice on what to do if you have them. Talk to your dentist and remember to bring a complete list of all the prescription medications, over-the-counter (OTC) drugs and supplements you’re taking to your next dental checkup.
Side Effect: Dry mouth
Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but having an overly dry mouth can also make you more susceptible to gum infection, cavities and tooth decay.
- Possible culprits: Hundreds of medications can cause dry mouth, including antacids, antihistamines, antidepressants, decongestants, painkillers, high blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering medications, and drugs for urinary incontinence.
- What to do: Sip water or suck on ice chips frequently throughout the day, and sleep with a humidifier in your bedroom. Avoid alcohol and toothpaste with sodium
laurelsulfate, which can aggravate dry mouth, advises Meinecke. Ask your doctor or dentist whether you’d benefit from using an over-the-counter moisturizing gel to stimulate saliva production.
Side Effect: Tooth discoloration
Sometimes the discoloration is superficial; other times, it’s inside the tooth (if it occurred when you were very young, for example).
- Possible culprits: Antibiotics like the tetracycline class, Cipro and penicillin.
- What to do: If the discoloration is on the outside of the tooth, a dental hygienist may be able to remove it, says Meinecke. If the area along the gumline or between the teeth is stained, your dentist can probably remove the discoloration using a special polishing system called Prophy-Jet.
Side Effect: Gum overgrowth
Fortunately, this is a rare phenomenon, but gum overgrowth is not only unsightly, it can also lead to lots of plaque buildup that can cause cavities and other problems. According to Meinecke, people with poor oral hygiene are more likely to experience gum overgrowth in response to medications.
- Possible culprits: Prolonged use of anticonvulsant drugs, calcium channel blockers or immunosuppressants.
- What to do: Meticulous brushing and flossing is essential while taking these medications. If your teeth are building up plaque because of abnormal gum growth, you may need to see your dentist more frequently than twice a year.
Side Effect: Tooth grinding or jaw clenching (aka bruxism)
Tooth grinding or clenching can lead to jaw pain and harm tooth enamel. “If people are just doing it at night, they may not be aware of it,” says Meinecke, but some are doing it during the day too.
- Possible culprits: Some selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressants (SSRIs), including Prozac, Celexa, Paxil and Effexor.
- What to do: Talk to your dentist about having a model made of your teeth to see if their size and shape change over time due to the grinding, suggests Meinecke. If you’re grinding just at night, wearing a mouth-guard can help. If it’s a problem 24/7, talk to your doctor about whether switching antidepressants or taking another medication along with the antidepressant might help mitigate these effects.
Side Effect: Abnormal bleeding
Certain meds can reduce the blood’s ability to clot, which can lead to bleeding problems during oral procedures or treatments.
- Possible causes: Anticoagulant medications (like Coumadin) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (including aspirin).
- What to do: Practice scrupulous oral hygiene (with gentle flossing and brushing), and be sure to tell your dentist that you’re taking these meds so he or she can take steps to minimize bleeding. “You may need to stop the medications before having a cleaning or certain types of dental work done,” notes Meinecke.
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is a freelance writer who specializes in health and psychological issues. Her work has appeared in many print and online publications, including Woman’s Day and Prevention. This is his first article appearing in Completely You.