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Does your dentist know what’s in your medicine cabinet?

If you use over-the-counter or prescription medications, let your dentist know. You should also mention any side effects you’ve experienced. These can negatively affect oral health and lead to more serious conditions. Luckily, early dentist detection can help reduce or alleviate many of these problems. Here are some common side effects, how they can affect your oral health and what you can do.

Dry mouth

Dry mouth (also called xerostomia) is a side effect of many medications. Although discomfort may be minimal, decreased saliva can cause bacteria and plaque to accumulate in your mouth, making you more susceptible to gum disease and tooth decay. Help combat dry mouth by drinking plenty of water (six to eight 8-ounce glasses per day), and talk to your dentist about alleviating symptoms.

Gingival enlargement

Some medications — including the calcium channel blockers frequently prescribed to control high blood pressure — can cause gingival enlargement, a condition that causes gums to swell and begin to grow over the teeth. If left untreated, it can cause severe periodontal (gum) infection. Luckily, early detection and dentist monitoring can help reduce its negative effects.

Tooth decay

From cough drops to antacid tablets, many medications in a dissolvable tablet or liquid form are sweetened to make them more palatable. The downside is that these sugars can leave sticky residue on teeth, making them more susceptible to decay. If you think your medication may be sweetened, be sure to brush your teeth after each dose.

Other side effects

Many other medications may have side effects that can affect your oral health:

  • Oral contraceptives and blood pressure control pills have been linked to oral sores and inflammation.
  • Tetracycline, used for acne treatment, can discolor teeth and underlying bone.
  • Over-the-counter remedies such as antibiotics and ibuprofen can produce lesions or ulcers in the mouth.
  • Drugs affecting the central nervous system can result in side effects such as fatigue, lethargy and motor impairment, which may make brushing and flossing difficult.
  • Antidepressants and high blood pressure medications can contribute to elevated levels of plaque and gingivitis.

Last updated September 21, 2021

The oral health information on this website is intended for educational purposes only. Always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.