Medications: How Do They Affect Your Teeth?

Millions of Americans take medications daily to help control certain conditions. While these medications are often necessary, some can affect your oral health. If you are on long-term medication, you may be at greater risk of developing tooth decay or gum disease, so it is important to know what effects the medications you are taking can have on your overall oral health.

The reasons for greater risk to oral health vary. For example, medicines with high sugar content can affect the gums and teeth. The sugar contained in liquid medications like cough syrup, cough drops, vitamins, antacid and anti-fungal agents can lead to tooth decay. Inhalers (particularly those containing steroids) can cause erosion of the tooth enamel.

Dry mouth is a potential side effect of many medications (prescribed and over-the-counter). Dry mouth is caused by the reduction in saliva flow. Without the cleansing effects of saliva, tooth decay and other oral health problems become more common.

Some medications that can cause dry mouth include:

  • Antihistamines/ decongestants
  • Pain medications/narcotics
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Drugs for urinary incontinence
  • Anti-depressants
  • Blood pressure medications
  • Medications for Parkinson’s disease

What you can do:

It is important to check the labels to determine if you are taking a sugar-based medication. Limit the use of, or request alternatives to, sugar-based medications when you can. However, never change medications without speaking to your doctor first and getting his or her approval. If you must use sugar-based medication, be sure to rinse your mouth with water immediately after taking the medication.

Discuss the medications you take with your dentist. They may be able to recommend alternative medications that are less harmful to your teeth.

If you do take medications that affect your oral health, be sure to adhere to a good regimen of oral hygiene. Brush your teeth twice daily and floss regularly. Some find using a water flosser is particularly helpful in achieving optimal oral health. Also, to help with dry mouth, try using a dry mouth oral rinse.