Medications and oral side effects

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Medications have become a normal part of everyday life, but the truth is – they are not at all harmless. From the everyday aspirin to the most advanced prescription medications on the market, all medications have side effects and some may even affect your oral health.

Pain killers, antidepressants, antibiotics, decongestants, corticosteroids, antihistamines and diuretics are clinically proven to have negative oral side effects. So, what exactly are they capable of doing to our oral health?

The most common oral side effects of the medications mentioned above include tooth decay, gum disease, oral thrush, dry mouth, burning mouth, and various secondary infections. Generally, patients suffering from serious medical conditions who are taking one or more prescriptive medications on a daily basis are very likely to develop oral disease. However, in most cases, the oral side effects of medications resolve shortly after the patient stops taking the medication. That is why the American Dental Association encourages patients to talk to their dentists about prescription and over-the-counter medications to learn more about how to limit the side effects on oral health.

The most common oral side effects of medications include:

Tooth decay occurs due to the lack of saliva caused by many prescriptive medications. Saliva is our natural protection against teeth decay because it contains antimicrobial components that help rebuild tooth enamel. When there is not enough of saliva, the teeth are extremely susceptible to decay.

Dry mouth is caused by many common medications, like e.g. antihistamines. This condition can be very uncomfortable but it can also lead to some serious health problems. When there is not enough saliva, the body’s natural immune system is weakened and of course, its ability to fight infections is decreased. Also, dry mouth is prone to soft tissue inflammation, pain, infection and tooth decay. It is especially problematic for people who wear dentures. So, what can you do? Alleviate dry mouth by drinking more water and chew sugarless gum to stimulate the flow of saliva. In some cases, artificial saliva is also recommended.

Burning mouth is a painful condition when people feel burning sensations in the whole mouth – tongue, gums, lips, cheeks and even in the throat. Luckily, burning mouth is very rare. The most affected group is usually women, especially after menopause.

Tooth discoloration can be caused by some medication since they can stain teeth. In that case, cosmetic dentistry techniques are an effective solution. Veneers, crowns, or teeth whitening may be used to give teeth a healthy glow.

Oral thrush is caused by the daily use of some prescription medications. It is an overgrowth of yeast fungi. You can recognize oral thrush by the white sores on the tongue that are often painful.

Gum tissue overgrowth happens with organ transplant patients and heart patients. However, gum tissue overgrowth can be controlled if proper oral hygiene is started at the same time or before medication is taken. If there is no other solution, sometimes a gingivectomy – the removal of the excess tissue – may be necessary.

Many medications prescribed on a daily basis or available over the counter can have negative effects on our teeth. That is why you should always talk to your dentist about the therapy, if you have one, and ask for advice how to limit the side effects and protect the health of your teeth and gums.

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