Medication in Dentistry

Medication in Dentistry

Dentists, like physicians, prescribe medications for many reasons.  While some medications are formulated to fight oral diseases, others are composed to prevent infections after surgical procedures.  When your dentist prescribes a medication, he or she will also provide you with specific instructions on how to use that medication.  Follow these instructions exactly.  If you are taking medication prior to receiving your prescription, such as medication for a pre-existing medical condition, make sure that your dentist knows about it.  If you have questions about your medication, speak with your dentist.  Your pharmacist may also be a great source of information if you have further questions.

Using Medication Before Dental Treatment 
Some medications may be prescribed prior to receiving a dental treatment.  These “premedication” drugs are used to help prevent infections, and to control existing conditions such as heart murmurs, valve problems, or dental anxiety.  Your dentist and/or physician will discuss with you what medications are needed, and when and why you need to take them.

When you receive any medication, question your dentist what you should look for after you have begun your treatment.  Ask about the intended effect of the medication, common side effects, and what you should do if you experience those side effects.  If there is an interference or interaction with a prescription or an over-the-counter medication you are currently taking, question everything related to your new medication.  If the medication you are currently taking looks different than what you receive when you refill it, speak up immediately.

We strongly recommend that you keep a record of medications prescribed for you and medications that you are currently using.  This record should include:

  • The generic name of the medication
  • The purpose and dosage of the medication
  • How often you need to take the medication (how many times a day, and how long the treatment is to last)

Every prescription dispensed by a pharmacist comes with a patient information sheet describing everything you need to know about the drug.  Read the sheet before beginning your treatment.  If you take several medications, keep a record of your daily intake, and note any symptoms that you experience as a result of your medication.

Anti-Inflammatory Medications
Corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory medications used to relieve the discomfort and redness of the mouth and gums.  These drugs are available as prescription-only pastes under brand names such as Kenalog in Orabase, Orabase-HCA, Oracort, and Oralone.

Mild pain and swelling caused by dental appliances, mild toothaches, and fevers may be treated with nonprescription anti-inflammatory drugs such as Motrin or Tylenol.  For more information, speak with your dentist.

Dental anesthetics may be used to relieve pain or irritation caused by:

  • Toothache
  • Teething
  • Sores in or around the mouth (cold and canker sores, fever blisters, etc.)
  • Dentures or other dental appliances
  • And other conditions

Over-the-counter or prescriptions anesthetics are available in many dosage forms, including aerosol spray, dental paste, gel, lozenges, ointments, and solutions.  Brand-name products such as Anbesol, Chloraseptic, Orajel, and Xylocaine contain dental anesthetics.

For more information, and to determine which anesthetic medication is most appropriate for your needs, schedule a consultation with your dentist.

Your dentist may recommend the use of an over-the-counter antiseptic mouth rinse to reduce plaque and gingivitis, and to kill the germs that cause bad breath.  Antiseptics can also be used to sterilize your mouth.

Medications for Dry Mouth Syndrome 
The medication that stimulates saliva production when your dentist diagnoses you with dry mouth is Salagan.

Medications to Manage Anxiety and Pain 
If you are in pain or experience anxiety while visiting your dentist, medications are available to reduce or eliminate your pain and help you feel more comfortable.  These medications are collectively known as sedation dentistry, or conscious sedation dentistry.  They include local anesthesia, general anesthesia, nitrous oxide (laughing gas), oral conscious sedation, and IV (intravenous) sedation.  Other pain relief medications may include prescription or nonprescription anti-inflammatory medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol).

Medications to Manage Plaque and Gingivitis 
Your dentist may recommend a medication to control or treat plaque and gum disease.  The medication Chlorhexidine (a mouth rinse) is a popular antibiotic used to control the plaque and gingivitis in the mouth and in periodontal pockets.

Medications for Treating Tooth Decay
The most common treatment for tooth decay is fluoride.  Fluoride is available in many different types of toothpaste, and can be absorbed by the teeth, strengthening them to resist acid and block the cavity-forming activity of bacteria.  As a varnish or a mouth rinse, fluoride helps to reduce tooth sensitivity.  Fluoride is also available as a liquid, tablet, or chewable tablet to be taken once each day.

Sedation Dentistry 
Sedation dentistry refers to the way dentists manage their patient’s pain, anxiety, and discomfort prior to or during their appointment.  The medications used in sedation dentistry are part of a group of drugs known as Benzodiazepines, and have a sedative and, to a certain degree, amnesiac effect.

There are three main forms of sedation dentistry:

  • Inhalation Sedation – Inhalation sedation uses nitrous oxide, or laughing gas. This is the most frequently used form of sedation in dentistry.  While using nitrous oxide sedation, your body functions remain normal.  Patients often describe experiencing a “floating” sensation.  In some cases, patients may fall asleep or experience minor memory loss.  This type of sedation dentistry is NOT recommended for patients with respiratory problems such as asthma or emphysema.  There are very few side effects, and patients recover shortly after they stop inhaling the drug, allowing them to drive to and from their dental appointment without danger.
  • Enteral (Oral) Sedation – This form of sedation dentistry involves taking an oral medication, usually a pill, prior to your appointment. Patients often fall asleep with this method, and in amnesia is common.  The level of sedation provided by this method is not predictable.  If you receive oral sedation, you must be driven to and from your appointment with your dentist.  Oral sedation works very well for most patients, and provides a state of deep relaxation.  Adults are usually prescribed Halcion (triazolam), while children commonly receive a liquid medication called Versed (Medazolan).
  • IV (Intravenous) Sedation – this form of sedation dentistry is administered directly into your bloodstream. An advantage of this treatment is that your doctor can control the amount of medication you receive, and provide you with more if necessary.  IV sedation requires advanced, specialized training and certification, and is not commonly offered in dental offices.  If you do receive this form of treatment, you will be carefully monitored throughout your dental procedure to ensure your safety.  You will likely experience some memory loss with this sedation treatment.  You will also be required to have someone with you to drive you home, and we encourage you to have someone remain with you for a few hours after your treatment.

We encourage you to schedule a consultation with your dentist to learn which sedation options are available, and which treatment will be most beneficial for you.


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