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Medications Used in Dentistry

There are a number of different medications 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 medications 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 he or she may give to you, make sure you fully understand the reasons for taking a medication and inform your dentist of any health conditions you may have.

Medications 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 medications, acetaminophen (Tylenol) and anesthetics.

Anti-inflammatory medications

Corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory medications 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, and Oralone.

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.

Anesthetics

Dental anesthetics are used in the mouth to relieve pain or irritation caused by many conditions, including toothache, teething, 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.

Anesthetics 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 anesthetics are contained in such brand name products as Anbesol, Chloraseptic, Orajel, and Xylocaine.

Note: Most benzocaine-containing medications used for teething may be used in babies 4 months of age and older. Most of the other nonprescription medicines that contain a dental anesthetic should be used only in children 2 years of age and older. Also, 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.

Medications to control plaque and gingivitis

Chlorhexidine is an antibiotic 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.

Note: Chlorhexidine may cause an increase in tartar 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 6 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.

Medications used to prevent tooth decay

Fluoride is 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 1 hour before or 1 hour after taking fluoride. Fluoride can cause staining of the teeth.

Dry mouth medications

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) 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.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 6/30/2006...#10909