The Long-Term Effects of Opioid Use on the Teeth
Sitting on your couch watching TV, you hear the commercial that seems to have found the perfect cure to a common illness, you sit and listen and observe the happy people, then the commercial ends and a quick and speedy list of about a million side effects are announced in a low monotone voice. Carolina’s Dental Choice wants you to know the negative effects opioids have on your teeth. The fact of the matter is this: there is a good chance that due to modern advancements in medicine, we have begun to take advantage of the fact that there is a drug for just about any ailment. We have become so focused on feeling better, we have neglected to read the fine print. This is not to say modern medicine is bad. Rather, it is important that we take extra good care of our teeth. This is true more now than ever, especially with the use of opioids on the rise.
Narcotic pain relievers prescribed only by a medical professional are called opioids. Most of us know them better by their particular names such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, and codeine, but each of these opioids carries with it a dangerous condition: dry mouth. There are many side effects to opioid use (addiction being the most deadly), but dry mouth is the one that can do direct damage to the teeth. What happens when we use opioids for short or long periods of time is the saliva deteriorates from the mouth. We need the bacteria in saliva to be continually present in order to fight off infection, tooth decay, and a host of other possible issues. Admittedly, dry mouth does not sound to be all that serious of a problem, but it is important to understand that dry mouth is simply the source of other much more serious side effects to opioid use.
This is not to say opioids are bad, but the long-term effects of opioid use can be extremely hazardous to the teeth if specific measures are not taken. Here are several of the symptoms that can become present after opioid use:
- Dryness in the mouth and throat – this can cause discomfort when talking or trying to swallow. It can keep you from sleeping, even keep you from eating.
- Thick saliva – this is when the little saliva you have left in your mouth becomes viscous or mucus-like. This can interfere with speech, eating, and drinking. It can also create bad breath.
- Sore throat – we all know how terrible it is to have a sore throat. It’s difficult to sleep and swallow. It can even be painful to speak at times.
- Increase in plaque development – more plaque means higher chances for cavities and rotted teeth. Gum infection can also occur.
- Bad breath – there are different types of bad breath: one caused from the foods or drinks we intake and another from dry mouth. The former can be dealt with by brushing, chewing gum, or taking mints. The latter is minimally effected by these things, and continuously gets worse with the more opioids we take.
- Mouth sores – these painful infections seem to irritate to no end, and without enough saliva in the mouth, they take longer to go away.
- Poor sense of taste – dry mouth can even cause our taste buds to suffer. Foods begin to taste dull, flat, or completely void of flavor altogether.
Luckily, there are remedies for dry mouth, and by taking a little time out of your day, these side effects of opioid use can be one less thing to worry about.
If you have been prescribed an opioid it is extremely important to have routine exams at Carolina’s Dental Choice. Once you are here, we can have a close look at your teeth and mouth to see what is most likely to happen once you begin taking the medication. We can even discuss possible side effects specific to your teeth from long-term opioid use. Regardless of how long you will be on the medication, there are a few things to start doing in order to counteract the many possible outcomes previously listed due to opioid use.
One thing you can do is purchase artificial saliva spray. This can help to moisten the mouth and increase the flow of saliva. If your dry mouth continues, you may want to contact your physician. He or she can prescribe Pilocarpine, which helps stimulate salivary glands to create saliva. Before trying either of these things, start by drinking extra water to see if it does the trick.
There are a few good home remedies that have proven to help many suffering from dry mouth, and it never hurts to try these first.
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, and floss each time as well.
- Drink plenty of water or unsweetened fluids with meals.
- Use only sugar-free mints or gum to stimulate saliva flow.
- Try to breathe primarily out of the nose rather than your mouth.
The digestion of food is dependent upon saliva. Saliva not only keeps the mouth moist, it also helps prevent against viruses, fungi, and tooth decay from taking place inside the mouth. Even if you are taking measures to control your dry mouth, it is essential that you still come into Carolina’s Dental Choice regularly for cleanings and checkups. Viruses, fungi, and tooth decay are not always apparent at first, which is why you want a professional who can detect and deal with them right away.
Here are a few more things to consider:
- Brush your teeth with soft bristles. If soft bristles still cause pain or irritation, try soaking the bristles in warm water prior to use.
- Avoid flossing around bleeding or sore gums, as this can cause more serious problems. If your gums do not seem to be getting better, make an appointment with Carolina’s Dental Choice right away.
- Use a mouthwash that contains fluoride and that does not contain alcohol. Alcohol in mouthwash can actually encourage dry mouth.
- As much as possible, refrain from sticky, sugary foods and drinks. Any time you do consume these, be sure to brush your teeth right afterward.
- Drink a lot of water throughout the day. This almost goes without saying, but it really can help keep the mouth from remaining dry.
- Run a humidifier in your room while you sleep. This will make sure the air you are breathing in is not too dry.
- Alcoholic and caffeinated drinks tend to quickly dry out the mouth. If you partake of either make sure you drink plenty of water before and after. Brushing your teeth after these can help as well.
We Can Help You
At Carolina’s Dental Choice we are here to help you. If you have been prescribed opioids, and have found that your mouth feels a little dryer than usual, come see us. Any or all of the preventative measures listed here can help, but allowing one of our trained professionals to look at your mouth can help pinpoint the most effective way for you to protect yourself from extreme dry mouth.
By: Andrae Bergeron
CCP Web Design