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Drugs Used in Dentistry

Medically Reviewed by Michael Friedman, DDS on October 10, 2019

There are a number of different drugs your dentist may prescribe, depending on your condition. Some medications are prescribed to fight certain oral diseases, to prevent or treat infections, or to control pain and relieve anxiety.

Here you will find a description of the most commonly used drugs in dental care. The dose of the drugs and instructions on how to take them will differ from patient to patient, depending on what the drug is being used for, patient's age, weight, and other considerations.

Even though your dentist will provide information to you about any medication they may give to you, make sure you fully understand the reasons for taking a medication and inform your dentist of any health conditions you have.

Drugs to Control Pain and Anxiety

Local anesthesia, general anesthesia, nitrous oxide, or intravenous sedation is commonly used in dental procedures to help control pain and anxiety. Other pain relievers include prescription or nonprescription anti-inflammatory drugs, acetaminophen, anesthetics and topical analgesics.

Anti-inflammatory drugs

Corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory drugs that are used to relieve the discomfort and redness of mouth and gum problems. Corticosteroids are available by prescription only and are available as pastes under such brand names as Kenalog in Orabase, Orabase-HCA, Oracort, Oralone, Lidex, Temovate and others.

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Your dentist may recommend a nonprescription anti-inflammatory drug -- such as Motrin -- to relieve mild pain and/or swelling caused by dental appliances, toothaches, and fevers. Tylenol may also be given.

Note: Unless directed by your dentist, never give infants and children aspirin.

Topical analgesics

Dental analgesics are used in the mouth to relieve pain or irritation caused by many conditions, including toothache and sores in or around the mouth (such as cold sores, canker sores, and fever blisters). Also, some of these medicines are used to relieve pain or irritation caused by dentures or other dental appliances, including braces.

Analgesics are available either by prescription or over-the-counter and come in many dosage forms, including aerosol spray, dental paste, gel, lozenges, ointments, and solutions. Dental analgesics are contained in such brand name products as Ambesol, Chloraseptic, Orajel, and Xylocaine.

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Topical pain relievers applied to the gums should not be used for teething. Not only does saliva quickly wash the medication away, but the FDA warns against dangerous, potentially life-threatening side effects caused by such products in infants and small children.

Note: Because the elderly are particularly sensitive to the effects of many local anesthetics, they should not use more than directed by the package label or the dentist. Anesthetics used for toothache pain should not be used for a prolonged period of time; they are prescribed for temporary pain relief until the toothache can be treated. Denture wearers using anesthetics to relieve pain from a new denture should see their dentist to determine if an adjustment to the appliance is needed to prevent more soreness.

Drugs to Control Plaque and Gingivitis

Chlorhexidine is an antibiotic drug used to control plaque and gingivitis in the mouth or in periodontal pockets (the space between your gum and tooth). The medication is available as a mouth rinse and as a gelatin-filled chip that is placed in the deep gum pockets next to your teeth after root planing. The drug in the gelatin-filled chip is released slowly over about seven days. Dental products containing this antibacterial are marketed under various prescription-only brand names, such as Peridex, PerioChip, and PerioGard, as well as other over-the-counter trade names.

Note: Chlorhexidine may increase the staining of tartar and plaque on your teeth. It may also cause staining of the tooth, tooth filling, and dentures or other mouth appliances. Brushing with a tartar-control toothpaste and flossing your teeth daily may help reduce this tartar build-up and staining. In addition, you should visit your dentist at least every six months to have your teeth cleaned and your gums examined. Be sure to tell your dentist if you have ever had any unusual or allergic reaction to this medicine or to skin disinfectants containing chlorhexidine.

Antiseptics

Your dentist may recommend the use of an over-the-counter antiseptic mouth rinse product to reduce plaque and gingivitis and kill the germs that cause bad breath.

Drugs Used to Treat Periodontal Disease

The doxycycline periodontal system (marketed as Atridox) contains the antibiotic doxycycline and is used to help treat periodontal disease. Doxycycline works by preventing the growth of bacteria. Doxycycline periodontal system is placed by your dentist into deep gum pockets next to your teeth and dissolves naturally over seven days. The time release of this medication may continue to occur even after it has dissolved.

Note: Tell your dentist if you have ever had any unusual or allergic reaction to doxycycline or to other tetracyclines. Use of doxycycline periodontal system is not recommended during the last half of pregnancy or in infants and children up to age 8, because the product may cause permanent discoloration of teeth and slow bone growth. Use of doxycycline periodontal system is not recommended if breastfeeding, because doxycycline passes into breast milk. This class of drugs also may decrease the effectiveness of estrogen-containing birth control pills, increasing the chance of unwanted pregnancy.

Drugs Used to Prevent Tooth Decay

Fluoride is a drug used to prevent tooth decay. It is available on a nonprescription basis in many toothpastes. It is absorbed by teeth and helps strengthen teeth to resist acid and block the cavity-forming action of bacteria. As a varnish or a mouth rinse, fluoride helps reduce tooth sensitivity. Prescription-strength fluoride is available as a liquid, tablet, and chewable tablet to take by mouth. It usually is taken once daily. It is prescribed for children and adults whose homes have water that is not fluoridated (has not had fluoride added to water).

Note: Before taking fluoride, be sure to tell your dentist if you are allergic to fluoride, tartrazine (a yellow dye in some processed foods and drugs), or any other drugs. Do not take calcium, magnesium, or iron supplements while taking fluoride without checking with your dentist. Tell your dentist if you are on a low-sodium or sodium-free diet. Do not eat or drink dairy products one hour before or one hour after taking fluoride. Fluoride can cause staining of the teeth if too much is ingested while the teeth are developing.

Dry Mouth Drugs

Pilocarpine, marketed as Salagan, may be prescribed by your dentist if you have been diagnosed with dry mouth. The drug stimulates saliva production.

Other Antibiotics

  • Tetracyclines (the class of drugs including demeclocycline, doxycycline, minocycline, oxytetracycline, and tetracycline) and the drug triclosan (marketed as Irgasan DP300) are also used in dentistry. These medications may be used either in combination with surgery and other therapies, or alone, to reduce or temporarily eliminate bacteria associated with periodontal disease, to suppress the destruction of the tooth's attachment to the bone or to reduce the pain and irritation of canker sores. Dental antibiotics come in a variety of forms including gels, thread-like fibers, microspheres (tiny round particles), and mouth rinses.
  • Muscle relaxants may be prescribed to reduce your stress to help you stop grinding your teeth and to treat temporomandibular joint disorders.
  • Antifungals are prescribed to treat oral thrush. The goal of treatment is to stop the spread of the Candida fungus. Antifungal medicines are available in tablets, lozenges, or liquids that are usually "swished" around in your mouth before being swallowed.

Questions to Ask Your Dentist or Your Pharmacist About Your Medication

  • What is the name of the medication?
  • Why do I need to take it?
  • How often should I take it?
  • What time of day should I take it?
  • Should I take it on an empty stomach or with meals?
  • Where should I store the medication?
  • What should I do if I forget to take a dose?
  • How long should I expect to take the medication?
  • How will I know it is working?
  • What common side effects should I expect?
  • Are there any rare but serious side effects to watch for?
  • Will the medication interfere with driving, working, or other activities?
  • Does the medication interact with any foods, alcohol or other beverages, or other medications, vitamins, supplements, over-the-counter products, herbal products, or eyedrops?

Review the drug information sheet that comes with each prescription. Write down any side effects you have, and call your dentist to discuss them. Update and review your history every time you see your dentist.

Facts to Tell Your Dentist About Yourself

Tell them if you:

  • Take any other medications, supplements, vitamins, herbal products, over-the-counter products, eyedrops, or prescription skin lotions
  • Are allergic to any medications
  • Are pregnant or think you might be pregnant
  • Have problems taking any medications
  • Have any health-related problems or medical conditions, especially any serious conditions that affect your body's major organs -- the kidneys, lungs, heart, or liver

Safety Guidelines for Taking Medications in General

  • Keep an updated list of all your medications and their dosages with you.
  • Take your medications exactly as prescribed.
  • Do not stop taking your medications unless you talk to your dentist first. Stopping too early can cause the illness to return or make it harder to treat.
  • Do not double the dose of your medication unless directed to.
  • If you forget to take a dose of your medication at the scheduled time, don't panic. Take it as soon as you remember. But if it is almost time for your next dose, skip the missed dose and return to your regular medication schedule.
  • Do not keep outdated medication or medication that is no longer needed. Throw old drugs away.
  • Store medications in a dry area away from moisture unless your dentist or pharmacist tells you the medicine needs to be refrigerated.
  • Always keep medications out of the reach of children.
  • Contact your dentist right away if you have any unusual side effects after taking your medication.
  • Do not share your medications with others.
  • If you store your medications in a container, label it with the drug name, dose, frequency, and expiration date.
  • Think about when your medications will be running out and have your prescriptions renewed as necessary.
  • Use only one pharmacy if you can.
  • Keep your medications in your carry-on luggage when you travel. Do not pack them in a suitcase that is checked, in case the suitcase is lost.
  • Take extra medication with you when you travel in case your flight is delayed and you need to stay away longer than planned.
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

FDA.

RxList: "Medications Used in Dentistry."

MedicineNet.com: "Taking Dental Medications."

Cleveland Clinic: "Taking Dental Medications."

Ohio State University Extension: "Systems to Keep Track of Taking Medications."

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