Rx Drugs Can Cause Dry Mouth, Leading to Dental Issues

Dry Mouth Can Lead to Tooth Decay and Gum Disease

Dry Mouth can Be a Medication Side Effect
Dry Mouth can Be a Medication Side Effect. Sharon Dominick/E+/Getty Images

When thinking about the potential side effects of bipolar medications, you may not think about one that some of them share with somewhere between 600 and 1800 other prescription drugs -- dry mouth.

It may sound like a simple inconvenience, but we need saliva. It washes away acids from food we eat that would otherwise eat into the teeth, and it contains minerals that help keep teeth healthy. When the mouth is constantly dry, tooth decay is much more likely.

Dry mouth can greatly contribute to gum or periodontal disease - and even potential tooth loss.

Gum Disease Can Be Serious

Your dentist probably tells you at each visit that you should be flossing your teeth every day. That's because flossing helps remove plaque, a bacteria-laden material that builds up on your teeth after every meal. Dry mouth can increase this build-up further, so having this problem is even more reason to clean between your teeth.

When plaque gets below the gum line, it causes gum disease, called gingivitis. Beyond tooth loss, periodontal disease has been associated with heart disease and diabetes, and it has even been connected to premature births and low birth weight.

Why Do Medications Cause Dry Mouth?

Many of them have anticholinergic effects, meaning they interfere with a chemical in the body that affects glands and secretions (among other things). Saliva comes from the salivary glands in the mouth, so anything that affects those glands can decrease the amount of saliva, making your mouth dry.

Which Medications Should I Be Concerned About?

Among the drugs that can cause dry mouth are many that are prescribed in treating bipolar disorder. Some of the most notorious are the tricyclic antidepressants, although other types of antidepressants can also decrease saliva. Most of the anticonvulsants used as mood stabilizers in treating bipolar disorder can cause dry mouth, as well as several antipsychotic medications.

Unfortunately, it's more than a little likely that you will be prescribed something for your bipolar disorder that could put you at risk for these concerns. Klonopin (clonazepam), an anti-anxiety medication also used as to control seizures, can also cause dry mouth.

In addition to those drugs that cause dry mouth, there are also medications that can cause you to grind your teeth. While this doesn't cause gum disease directly, it can make existing gum disease worse.

If you're experiencing dry mouth or other signs of gum disease, look up your medications in our Side Effects Library to see if one or more of them may be causing this.

What Can Be Done To Protect Your Teeth and Gums?

There are several methods that can be used to protect your teeth from the dental side effects of medications. The obvious ones are brushing your teeth at least twice daily and flossing once a day. Others include:

  • quitting smoking
  • making sure you get enough vitamin C

Also, Biotene Dry Mouth products have been highly recommended. The product line includes:

  • Biotene Dry Mouth Mouthwash
  • Biotene Dry Mouth Gel and Gel Toothpaste
  • Biotene Dry Mouth Toothpaste
  • ACT Fluoride Mouthwash for Dry Mouth

Your Dentist Can Help

The one thing you should definitely do if you suffer from dry mouth or bleeding gums is to see your dentist. Only a dentist can evaluate how much damage has already been done and work with you to stabilize or improve the condition of your mouth. Make sure you give your dentist a list of all the medications you are taking. He or she will be able to spot the ones that could be contributing to your dental problems.

The dentist may recommend additional treatments such as a fluoride rinse, a prescription fluoride gel, saliva substitutes, a mouth guard (if you grind your teeth), or even a prescription drug to increase saliva production, if it does not conflict with your current medications.

For a dental hygienist's take on the subject - and my mouth - see my blog post Do you have a problem with dry mouth?

Sources:
Klotter, Julie. "Drugs that promote tooth decay." BNET. 2005. 7 Sep 2009
Periodontal Disease. A.D.A.M. 2009. About.com. 7 Sep 2009.

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