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Using herbal supplements? Tell your dentist

Whether it's echinacea or aspirin, you should always tell your dentist about any medications and supplements you're taking. Everything you ingest, even vitamins, causes a certain reaction within your body. If your dentist doesn’t know what drugs or supplements you have taken, he or she won't be able to protect you from possible substance interactions. This is particularly important if you are undergoing any surgical treatment.

Conventional medicines vs. herbal supplements

Although many conventional prescription and over-the-counter medications sold in the United States are derived from plants, they are different from herbal medications. Conventional drugs, which must be approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration, are based on an active ingredient or chemical that manufacturers synthesize when they develop the drug. In other words, a conventional drug (such as aspirin) is based on a chemical that is made in a laboratory, even though it may have originally come from a plant (such as the willow tree).

Herbal (also called botanical or alternative) medications are made from natural chemicals extracted from a plant and are produced either in original form (sometimes combined with other herbal extracts) or refined. When an herbal medication is refined, the essential extract is taken out of the plant source, concentrated and then added back to make the original herbal medication more potent.

Combinations to avoid

Even seemingly innocuous herbal and vitamin supplements can have serious side effects for a few dental patients. Here are some combinations to be aware of:

  • Ginkgo biloba and vitamin E can be dangerous when taken with aspirin because they each can act as blood thinners. The combination may cause difficulties in blood clotting, which could be serious if you're undergoing surgery.
  • Taking high dosages of vitamins before undergoing anesthesia can also cause concern. In particular, vitamin C, often taken in high dosages for cancer treatment or as a cold remedy, can weaken the efficiency of anesthesia.
  • Calming supplements can strengthen anesthesia. Kava and St. John's wort are two common supplements that can enhance anesthesia's effects.

What your dentist can do to protect you during treatment

Always provide your dentist with a complete medical history, including any herbal medication and conventional drugs you are taking.

If you take alternative medicines, you might be concerned that your dentist will not respect your decision and will tell you to stop taking them.  However, as herbal medications become more popular, many dentists are beginning to use them in their practices. But if an herbal medication could interfere with your dental treatment, your dentist may ask you to stop taking the medication until the treatment is complete. Your dentist might instead suggest an alternative herbal solutions to you or prescribe a different drug for treatment, if one is available.

Last updated February 11, 2022

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.