3 minute read

Medication is part of everyday life for many Australians, whether it’s helping to provide temporary relief from pain or discomfort, improving health or wellbeing, or necessary for managing an underlying medical condition. However, all medications involve a risk of side effects, and some of these can affect oral health.

If you’re concerned that medication you’re taking may be having an impact on your teeth, gums or other aspects of your oral health, it’s important to speak to both your doctor and dentist. They may be able to suggest alternatives, or ways to manage their effects and lower your risks.

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Which medications can cause oral health problems?

Medications may cause oral health problems

Hundreds of medications can potentially affect oral health, including prescription and non-prescription drugs and vitamins. Some of the most common include:

• Allergy medications: Antihistamines may cause dry mouth and gum problems as side effects
• Antidepressants: Can also cause dry mouth and increase tooth decay risk
• Aspirin: May cause mouth ulcers or lead to tooth erosion if tablets are chewed
• Asthma medications: Tend to be acidic, which can lead to tooth wear or decay over time, as well as oral infections
• Blood pressure and heart medications: Often cause dry mouth and may cause gum problems
• Chemotherapy medications: Linked with many oral health effects, including dry mouth, ulcers, and swollen gums
• Syrups and sweetened medications: Any medication or over-the-counter remedy with high sugar content can cause tooth decay, including cough medicines, throat lozenges and vitamins

To talk to an experienced dentist about medications and oral health in Kelmscott, contact our friendly team at Kelmscott Dental today.

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How can medications affect your mouth?

Different medications can affect oral health in different ways, and their impact isn’t always obvious. That’s why it’s important to tell your dentist about any medications, supplements or other products you’re taking during your visit. Some of their common effects are detailed below.

Dry mouth

Dry mouth can be a side-effect of some medications

The most common oral health-related side effect of medications in dry mouth (xerostomia). This can happen when medication affects the function of the salivary glands, causing less saliva to be produced. This can lead to the mouth, tongue and throat feeling dry, as well as making it easier for bacteria to build up on the teeth and cause decay. Dry mouth is also a risk factor for other oral health problems, including gum disease and mouth cancer.

More than 400 medications are linked with dry mouth, including some anti-anxiety and anti-nausea medications, antidepressants, antihistamines, antipsychotics, blood pressure and heart medications, chemotherapy drugs, seizure medications, and some medications for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Tooth decay and erosion

Sugar-loaded syrups, lozenges and other sweetened medications can lead to decay and erosion

Medications that contain sugar can be as damaging for teeth as lollies and other sweet treats. When you consume syrups, lozenges or other sweetened medication, bacteria on the surfaces of your teeth feed on this sugar and release acids that wear down the tooth enamel. Over time, this can lead to cavities forming that may require fillings or other treatments to repair.

Medications with high acid content, such as aspirin, can also cause tooth erosion.

Mouth ulcers

Some medications cause mouth ulcers

Mouth ulcers or sores can happen when the soft tissue lining the mouth (the mucous membrane) becomes swollen or damaged. This can be a side effect of many chemotherapy drugs, as well as some types of aspirin and other medicines. This may cause pain or bleeding in the mouth and can sometimes make eating difficult.

Chemotherapy drugs are more likely to cause mouth ulcers if you are dehydrated, have poor oral hygiene, smoke, drink excessive alcohol, or have certain medical conditions.

Gum problems

Gum problems lead to other health problems

Some prescription medications, including blood pressure medications, epilepsy and seizure medications and immunosuppressant drugs, may cause the gums to swell or grow over the teeth. This can trap bacteria below the gums, leading to gum disease. This can eventually cause permanent damage such as gum recession and even tooth loss if it’s not treated. Advanced gum disease is also linked with a higher risk of developing various health conditions, such as heart disease and stroke.

Some oral contraceptives may also cause gum problems as a side effect.

Oral infections

Oral infections

Some asthma inhaler medications may cause yeast infections (oral candidiasis) if the mouth isn’t rinsed afterward or kept hydrated. This can result in a build-up of fungus in the mouth and on the tongue that can feel unpleasant, but isn’t usually harmful when treated with antifungal medicine.

Taste changes

Some medications can affect your taste

Besides causing oral health problems, many medications may cause food to taste different (a condition known as dysgeusia), or cause an unpleasant taste in the mouth. This is usually temporary, and taste should return to normal after medication is stopped.

Taste changes are common with chemotherapy drugs and some antibiotics, antihistamines, antipsychotics, diuretics, asthma medicines, blood pressure and heart medications, blood thinners, cholesterol-lowering drugs, muscle relaxers, and drugs to treat diabetes, glaucoma, gout, rheumatoid arthritis and tuberculosis, among others.

Tooth staining and discolouration

Tooth discolouration can be caused by some medications

Some medications can have cosmetic effects on teeth by causing them to darken or become discoloured. This happens when medicine affects calcium or other minerals in teeth. This type of internal discolouration can’t be treated with chemical teeth whitening treatments, but it may be covered up by other options such as veneers or internal bleaching.

Medications that can cause discolouration include certain antibiotics (especially when taken by young children or during pregnancy), antiseptics and iron salts.

How to lower your risks


You shouldn’t make changes to your medication without consulting with your doctor first. In some cases, they may be able to recommend an alternative that’s less likely to affect your oral health, though in other cases, you may need to find ways to reduce their impact. This can include:

• Rinsing your mouth with tap water after taking sugary or acidic medication
• Choosing over-the-counter medicines that are low in sugar and acids (when possible)
• Brushing your teeth at least twice a day using fluoride toothpaste, and flossing daily
• Eating a healthy, balanced diet
• Drinking plenty of water to help cleanse and hydrate your mouth, especially fluoridated water
• Visiting the dentist once or twice a year for a thorough check-up and clean

Oral health care and advice in Kelmscott

If you’re due for a check-up or you want to see a dentist to discuss any concerns, call our team at Kelmscott Dental today on (08) 9495 7999 or book an appointment online. We welcome patients from all surrounding areas, including Armadale and Gosnells.

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1. https://www.webmd.com/oral-health/oral-side-effects-of-medications