Many of the common adverse effects of medication use that are seen in the oral cavity are dry mouth, abnormal bleeding of the gums, gingival enlargement, and soft tissue reactions. (Photo: Pexels)

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

Many medications can affect your oral health. In addition to prescribed and over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, minerals, and herbal supplements can also cause oral health issues. Many of the common adverse effects of medication use that are seen in the oral cavity are dry mouth, abnormal bleeding of the gums, gingival enlargement, and soft tissue reactions. However, these side effects can be minimised by good oral hygiene practices, including regular brushing with a fluoridated toothpaste and flossing.

Some common oral side effects include:

Dry Mouth: Antihistamines, blood pressure and heart medications, antidepressants and other drugs can cause a decrease in saliva, leaving your mouth prone to soft tissue inflammation, pain and infection. Tooth decay can also develop, and chronic dry mouth can create problems for people who wear dentures. Alleviate dry mouth by drinking more water or using sugarless lozenges or gum to stimulate the flow of saliva. Artificial saliva or, in some cases, medication may be recommended by your dentist or physician.

Gum tissue overgrowth: Also referred to as “gingival hyperplasia”, gum tissue overgrowth is associated with anti-seizure medications, immunosuppressant drugs such as those taken by organ transplant patients and calcium channel blockers taken by heart patients. Studies suggest that gum tissue overgrowth can be controlled if meticulous oral hygiene is started at the same time or before medication is taken. Tissue overgrowth can complicate oral hygiene. Sometimes, a gingivectomy (a procedure used to remove excess tissue) may be necessary.

Soft-tissue reactions: Oral sores, inflammation or discolouration of the soft tissue can result from taking medications prescribed for blood pressure control, immunosuppressive agents, oral contraceptives and some chemotherapeutic agents. Your dentist may recommend an oral hygiene programme to limit the discomfort associated with such side effects.

Abnormal bleeding: Reduced blood clotting is a result of aspirin and prescribed anticoagulants, like heparin or warfarin. These medications are prescribed to treat strokes or heart disease, but can cause bleeding problems during oral surgery or periodontal treatment. If you’re having dental treatment, talk to your dentist about these medications, especially if the dental procedure involves bleeding.

Tooth discolouration: Intake of tetracycline products when teeth are developing can cause permanent staining in those teeth. Cosmetic dentistry techniques like veneers, crowns, bonding procedures, or, in some cases, bleaching may be used to lighten teeth with tetracycline stains.

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

Preventing oral health problems

Some suggestions include:

• Avoid fizzy soft drinks, which are highly acidic and can erode tooth enamel. Drink fluoridated tap water instead.

• Cut back on sweet or sticky foods such as biscuits or popcorn.

• Chew sugar-free gum to encourage a steady flow of saliva.

• Pay careful attention to your tooth brushing and flossing habits. Brush your teeth thoroughly at least twice a day and floss once a day. Be gentle when cleaning your teeth to avoid damaging the gums.

• If your medication is acidic, rinse your mouth with water after taking it and avoid brushing your teeth for at least 30 minutes.

• Visit your dentist at least once or twice a year.

• Ask your doctor, dentist or pharmacist about the medicines you take and if they may affect your dental health.

•Minimise your intake of alcohol.

• Consider quitting smoking. Speak to your doctor or dentist about support available to help you quit.

• If you have a drug or alcohol dependence problem, consider talking to your doctor about support services or entering a drug treatment programme.

Your doctor and dentist may offer further self-care suggestions. Follow the suggestions carefully.

Dr Sharon Robinson, DDS, has offices at Dental Place Cosmetix Spa, located at shop #5, Winchester Business Centre, 15 Hope Road, Kingston 10. Dr Robinson is an adjunct lecturer at the University of Technology, Jamaica, School of Oral Health Sciences. She may be contacted at 876-630-4710. Like their Facebook page, Dental Place Cosmetix Spa.