Whether you’re a new or a repeat patient, one question your dental practitioner will ask regularly is, ‘Are you currently taking any medications?’
But they’re not being nosey. There are known links between oral health and overall wellbeing. How you’re feeling (well or not) and anything you’re taking to make you feel better can affect your teeth, gums, and oral health treatment plan.
Disclosing information about any medications you’re on can feel very personal. And sometimes it’s a sensitive subject.
Hopefully this article will put your mind at ease, as it explains exactly why your dentist needs to know what medication you’re taking or treatments you’re receiving.
The effects of medications on oral health and dental care
Australia is privileged in having access to a range of effective medicines. But while they can work wonders at healing us, giving us mental balance or relieving our pain, they can also have side effects. And some of those side effects can affect your mouth and oral health.
Whether they’re injected, inhaled or taken orally, prescribed and over-the-counter medicines can have side effects that affect the mouth. One you might be familiar with, especially if you’re prone to getting colds or hayfever, is dry mouth.
The formula of some medications reduces saliva production. Saliva helps the body remove bacteria around your teeth and gums. And when there isn’t enough of it, the chance of developing tooth decay or gum disease increases.
So the ‘drink more fluids’ advice is good not only for combating sickness, but also for counteracting the dry mouth effects of some medications.
If you’re taking blood-thinning medications, you may bleed more easily or for longer when you have even a minor cut. And this information is relevant to your dentist in case a tooth needs removing.
Unfortunately, bleeding is inevitable during a tooth extraction. (Sorry if that’s too much information.) And if you’re taking blood thinners, clotting and healing after an extraction may be harder. But if they have the right information, your dental practitioner can take steps to ensure the bleeding isn’t excessive.
Immunosuppressants can also lengthen the healing time. Any major dental work you need (e.g. dental implants, multiple tooth extraction) is best saved until you’ve finished the course.
For those taking antihypertensives to lower blood pressure, there’s a risk of gum swelling and overgrowth. And people taking medications to treat osteoporosis may experience painful mouth ulcers.
Many of the medications we’ve mentioned so far are usually prescribed by a doctor. But it’s not just prescription medications that can affect your teeth and gums. Many over-the-counter tablets, capsules and syrups can also affect mouth health.
- Aspirin is highly acidic, and can damage tooth enamel.
- Antihistamines for hayfever—or in cold and flu medicines—can lead to dry mouth.
- Many syrups, medicines and lozenges contain spoonfuls of sugar, which contributes to tooth decay.
Telling your dentist what medications you’re currently taking is the best way to look after your mouth.
Whether it’s the hayfever tablets you’ve been taking for the past week or the ongoing need to micro-dose aspirin, telling your dentist means they can:
- factor it into your personalised treatment plan
- better understand what oral health challenges you’re facing, and their root cause
- suggest and carry out treatments that fit in with the medication you’re taking. You may need to finish the course or stop taking it before receiving some dental treatments. But your dentist or doctor will always advise you if and when this is necessary.
What about supplements and herbal remedies?
Some supplements and herbal remedies can potentially increase the risk of bleeding. Let your dentist know if you’re taking any herbal remedies or supplements containing the following:
- St John’s Wort
- ginkgo biloba
- evening primrose oil
- fish oil.
If possible, stop taking them a week or so before your appointment. (Source: ADA media release.)
If you’re worried about disclosing medications to your dentist
You may not feel comfortable telling your dentist what medications you’re taking. You may be holding back due to stigma, shame, sadness or simply because you’re a private person. But please understand that any information you give your dentist will remain confidential – just like the information you give your doctor.
If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your medication list with your dentist, you could ask your GP or treatment specialist to write a letter on your behalf and send it on. (Note: there may be a small fee attached to this.)
Alternatively, you could email the practice before your appointment with the details of your medications, but ask that any discussions around it be treated sensitively or kept to a minimum.
Make a meds list to bring to your appointment
The spelling and brand names of different medications aren’t easy to remember. And you may want to let your dentist know when you started the medication and how long you expect to be on it.
To make sure you give your dentist the right information about the medications you’re on, bring a medications list to your appointment. Gathering all this information is much easier when you’re at home with the bottles and packets in front of you. Put together a simple table like the one below and bring it with you.
You can then quickly and easily fill in the relevant section of the new patient form (or hand the list to your dentist if you’re a repeat patient).
Medication updates and changes
Generally, you only need to see your dentist once or twice a year. And a lot can happen during that time, including changes to your medications. If this is the case, you’ll need to let your dentist know what you’re taking now that the course has finished. It’s all helpful information that keeps your treatment plan relevant and delivers the oral health care you need.
If you feel comfortable talking to the practice receptionist about your medication, give them the information when you make your appointment. Alternatively, you can let your dentist know directly. Just bring your amended medications list when you next see them.
Extra tip: If you want to speak only to your dentist about the medications you’re on, let the receptionist know you’d like some extra time with your dentist. All you need to say is that there are some things you want to discuss with your dentist. You don’t need to say any more than that, but it means you won’t have to rush.
Need to let your Keppel Dentist know what medications you’re taking?
If you’re a Keppel Dental patient and you haven’t updated your dentist about the medications you’re taking, then now’s a good time. (You’re already thinking about it, so why not tick that job off your to-do list?)
The easiest way is to update us at your next appointment. If your appointment is coming up in the next week or so and your medications have only recently changed, give us a call (07) 3130 0297 to let us know in advance.