You may already know that your prescription medications could be doing wonders for issues like allergies and high blood pressure, but is it possible that they may be putting your teeth at risk at the same time? A recent study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society suggests there may be a connection between some medications and oral health risks which emerge from consistent use.
Researchers noted that a common side effect of certain prescribed medications is dry mouth, a condition in which you don’t have enough saliva to keep your mouth wet. When that happens, it puts you at significantly higher risk for tooth decay and oral infections, since bacteria can’t be flushed from your mouth as effectively. Medications linked to dry mouth include those used to treat urinary incontinence, depression, insomnia, anxiety, and high blood pressure.
According to lead researcher Edwin Tan, PhD, of the Aging Research Center in Stockholm, older adults are at particular risk because they tend to use more medications, especially for conditions like incontinence.
Dry mouth doesn’t just raise risks of tooth loss, it can seriously impact nutrition by interfering with the process of chewing and swallowing—leading some people to eat less than they should.
Why do some meds cause dry mouth?
The problem comes with how certain medications affect the salivary glands in your mouth, although the mechanism may be different for each. For example, some antidepressants inhibit uptake of a molecule that prevents a specific neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, from reaching receptors in your salivary glands. With blood pressure medications like beta blockers, diuretics, and calcium channel blockers, your body loses water in general because sodium levels in your kidneys are reduced.
No matter what the process, dry mouth can result, and that may become a big problem.
Saliva provides valuable enzymes, minerals, and a high concentration of oxygen to keep our mouths in balance. Bacteria that can cause bad breath, gum disease, and tooth decay can’t thrive in a mouth with healthy amounts of saliva, he adds. (This is how a trip to your dentist can save your heart.)
In fact, dry mouth is the main reason for stinky morning breath—we don’t make much saliva when we sleep, so bacteria tend to thrive until you wash it away with a morning drink or start normal saliva production for the day.
How to protect your teeth
Fortunately, you don’t have to ditch your meds to save your teeth. Researchers recommend limiting or eliminating alcohol, including alcohol-based mouthwash, since that can dry out the mouth even more. He also suggests using a toothpaste that doesn’t contain sodium lauryl sulfate, which has also been linked to dry mouth.
Finally, and most importantly, stay hydrated. Increasing the amount and frequency of drinking water can be a boon to counteracting the effects of dry-mouth-inducing medications.