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Oral Side Effects of Medications

The next time you pop a pill, ask yourself this question: What will this medicine do to my mouth and teeth?

Generally speaking, medicines are designed to make you feel better. But all drugs, whether taken by mouth or injected, come with a risk of side effects, and hundreds of drugs are known to cause mouth (oral) problems. Medicines used to treat cancer, high blood pressure, severe pain, depression, allergies, and even the common cold can have a negative impact on your dental health. That's why your dentist, not just your doctor, should always know about all the medications you are taking, including over-the-counter products, vitamins, and supplements.

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Some of the most common mouth-related (oral) side effects of medications are listed below.

Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)

Some drugs can reduce the amount of saliva in your mouth, causing an uncomfortably dry mouth (xerostomia). Without enough saliva, the tissues in the mouth can become irritated and inflamed. This increases your risk for infection and gum disease.

More than 400 medications are known to cause dry mouth. Dry mouth is also a side effect of certain chemotherapy medicines.

Some medicines that list dry mouth as a side effect include:

  • Antihistamines
  • Antidepressants
  • Antipsychotics
  • Parkinson's disease medications
  • Alzheimer's disease medications
  • Lung inhalers
  • Certain blood pressure and heart medications, including angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, beta-blockers, heart rhythm medications, and diuretics
  • Seizure medications
  • Isotretinoin, used to treat acne
  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Anti-nausea and anti-diarrheal medicines
  • Narcotic pain medications
  • Scopolamine, used to prevent motion sickness
  • Anti-spasm medications

Dry mouth can be a bothersome problem. However, many times, the benefits of using a medicine outweigh the risks and discomfort of dry mouth. Drinking plenty of water or chewing sugarless gum may help relieve your symptoms.

Fungal Infection

Certain inhaler medications used for asthma may lead to a yeast infection in the mouth called oral candidiasis. Rinsing your mouth out with water after using an inhaler can help prevent this side effect.

Gum Swelling (Gingival Overgrowth)

Some medications can cause a buildup of gum tissue, a condition called "gingival overgrowth." Gum tissue becomes so swollen that it begins to grow over the teeth. Gingival overgrowth increases your risk of periodontal disease. Swollen gum tissue creates a favorable environment for bacteria, which can damage surrounding tooth structures.  

Medications that can cause gum swelling and overgrowth include:

  • Phenytoin, a seizure medication.
  • Cyclosporine, an immunosuppressant drug often used to prevent transplant rejection.
  • Blood pressure medications called calcium channel blockers, which include nifedipine, verapamil, diltiazem, and amlodipine.

Men are more likely to develop this side effect. Having existing dental plaque also raises your risk. Good oral hygiene and more frequent visits to the dentist (perhaps every three months) can help lower your chances of developing this condition.

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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