Your dentist may prescribe a number of different medications, 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 is a description of the most commonly used medications in dental care. The doses 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, the patient's age and weight, and other considerations.
Your dentist will provide information about any medication he or she may give you. Make sure you fully understand the reasons for taking a medication, and tell your dentist about any health conditions you may have.
Medications to control pain and anxiety
Local anesthesia, general anesthesia, nitrous oxide, or intravenous sedation are commonly used in dental procedures to help control pain and anxiety. Other pain relievers include prescription or nonprescription anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen, or analgesics such as acetaminophen (Tylenol
®) and anesthetics (local or general).
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 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: Never give aspirin to infants and children, unless directed by your dentist.
Dental anesthetics are used 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). Some of these medicines are also used to relieve pain or irritation caused by dentures or other dental appliances, including braces.
Anesthetics are available by prescription or over-the-counter and come in many forms, including aerosol spray, dental paste, gel, lozenges, ointments, and solutions. Dental anesthetic brand name products include Anbesol®, Chloraseptic®, Orajel®, and Xylocaine®.
Note: Most benzocaine-containing medications 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 is directed by the package label or the dentist.
Anesthetics used for toothache pain should not be used for a long period of time; they are prescribed for temporary pain relief until the toothache can be treated. Denture wearers who are using anesthetics to relieve pain from a new denture should see their dentist to determine if they need an adjustment to prevent more soreness.
Medications to control plaque and gingivitis
Chlorhexidine is an antibiotic that controls 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, and may stain the tooth, tooth filling, and dentures or other appliances. Brushing with a tartar-control toothpaste and flossing your teeth daily will help reduce this tartar buildup 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 that contain chlorhexidine.
Your dentist may recommend that you use an over-the-counter antiseptic mouth rinse product to reduce plaque, gingivitis, and the germs that cause bad breath.
Medications to prevent tooth decay
Fluoride is used to prevent tooth decay and 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. Fluoride can cause staining of the teeth.
Prescription-strength fluoride is available as a liquid, tablet, and chewable tablet. It usually is taken once daily. It is prescribed for children and adults who live in homes in which the water is not fluoridated (has not had fluoride added to the 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.
Dry mouth medications
If you have been diagnosed with dry mouth, your dentist may prescribe pilocarpine (Salagen®). The drug stimulates production of saliva.
Tetracyclines (the class of drugs including demeclocycline, doxycycline, minocycline, oxytetracycline, and tetracycline) may be used alone or in combination with surgery and other therapies to:
- Reduce or temporarily eliminate bacteria associated with periodontal disease.
- Suppress the destruction of the tooth's attachment to the bone.
- 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 in order to help you stop grinding your teeth, and to treat temporomandibular joint disorders.
Antifungals are prescribed to treat oral thrush. The goal 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.