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Prescription Drugs and Dental Problems

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 22 Nov 2010 | comments*Discuss
Prescription Drugs Over The Counter

Most of us will take prescription drugs at some point in our lives, but did you ever consider that these drugs could have adverse effects on your teeth and mouth? A number of drugs – legal and illegal – can damage your teeth. In fact, some statistics suggest that nearly half of us will take one or more prescription medications that can harm our tooth enamel.

Children and Dental Care

It's important to look at how prescription drugs and other treatments can affect a child's teeth. This is mostly because when teeth are developing, they are particularly vulnerable to a number of different drugs and chemicals.

Antibiotics such as tetracycline can leave your child's teeth with a yellow or brown tinge. Unfortunately, this is permanent although tooth whitening can sometimes help once your child is an adult.

Another issue is fluoride, which although being known to strengthen teeth – can also harm them in excessive amounts. Too much fluoride can lead to discolorations on teeth in a condition known as fluorosis. Generally, supervising your children when they brush their teeth can ensure they don't use too much toothpaste and become overly exposed to fluoride.

How Saliva Protects Teeth

A key issue with prescription drugs and teeth is that some of them reduce the flow of saliva. Usually, this is simply known as "dry mouth." It isn't just an irritating side effect that can leave you feeling thirsty and uncomfortable, but it can also raise your chances of suffering from tooth decay.

The reason for decay is that saliva has a protective effect in your mouth. It keeps the number of bacteria in your mouth lower and it also helps to neutralise acids, thus keeping your mouth less acidic, which then reduces the risk of tooth decay. It is also made up of various substances that play an important role in strengthening tooth enamel, thereby improving the protection of teeth.

Prescriptions to Be Careful With

If you are taking one of the prescriptions known to lead to tooth damage, you should tell your dentist. These medications include both common over the counter drugs such as antihistamines, which can cause a dry mouth, and prescription strength treatments as well.

While not a prescription, another drug to be aware of that can damage teeth is aspirin. Swallow aspirin with plenty of fluids – ideally water or a non-sugary drink. Always ensure you don't chew aspirin as the acids are damaging to enamel.

Other prescription medications to approach with caution include those for asthma. A number of asthma medications are quite acidic and can harm tooth enamel, particularly as they tend to be used long-term.

Many cough medications and preparations today are high in sugar and can increase your chances. If you do take one that has sugar in it, try to brush your teeth after each dose. Better still, you can try to choose one that doesn't have sugar.

Protecting Your Gums

Some prescription drugs can harm your gums, which can also put you at a higher risk of tooth decay. These include antihistamines as mentioned above, as well as antihypertensives and chemotherapy drugs. Other prescription medications to be aware of include those that suppress the immune system and also oral contraceptive pills.

Prescription medications that can lead to thickened gum tissue include those used to treat epilepsy and also those medications used to treat high blood pressure. Another one to watch out for is calcium channel blockers. The good news is that if you do suffer from an overgrowth of gum tissue, your dentist can surgically remove the excess tissue.

What You Can Do

The best approach is one that involves consistent, good communication with your dentist. While you can't avoid taking a prescription drug that your body needs, you can still partake in a healthy, low-sugar diet along with proper oral hygiene and frequent visits to your dentist for professional cleaning and a check-up.

With this kind of a stable, healthy programme underlying any prescription drugs, you will be in better initial form to withstand some of the effects on your teeth and mouth from prescription drugs. Open communication with your dentist by telling him or her any prescription drugs you are taking can also help because your dentist may be able to suggest precautions to help reduce the potential for damage. With a bit of care and foresight, you can help to protect your enamel while still taking the prescription drugs you need for good health.

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