High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a health problem that is estimated to affect some 70 million Americans—around one in three American adults! People who face this common but potentially serious condition are urged to make lifestyle changes that can lead to better health; they are generally treated with medications as well. The drugs most often prescribed include beta blockers, diuretics, calcium channel blockers (CCBs) and angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors. While these medications are usually quite effective, some may have unwanted side effects—and that’s where concerns about your oral health can arise.
Although they are intended to affect other parts of your body, some blood pressure medications can cause problems in your mouth. One common problem is excessive dryness, or xerostomia. Everyone experiences a dry mouth sometimes—but persistent dryness may cause problems with chewing and swallowing food, and speaking. It can also increase your chance of developing tooth decay, and may make you more susceptible to several types of oral infections.
Xerostomia usually results from a lack of sufficient saliva. This beneficial fluid does much more than just keep tissues moist—it contains enzymes that help digest food, and other substances that keep harmful oral bacteria from proliferating. It also neutralizes acid in the mouth, which helps prevent cavities from forming. Unfortunately, reduced production of saliva is a side effect of certain medications.
Some calcium channel blockers used to treat high blood pressure may have another unwanted side effect: They can cause a buildup of excess gum tissue (sometimes called gingival overgrowth), which may result in gum tissue extending abnormally over the tooth surfaces. This is not only unsightly, but may also increase your risk for periodontal disease—because swollen gum tissue creates an ideal environment to host the bacteria that cause gum disease.
What can you do if your blood pressure medications are producing unwanted side effects in your mouth? In some cases, it may be possible to switch to another type of drug. Lisinopril (also called Prinivil or Zestril) has been reported to produce fewer oral side effects than some other medications. Of course, it’s essential to ask your doctor before you change your dosage or switch drugs. He or she will be able to give you the best recommendation.
If it isn’t possible to switch medications, there are still some things you can do to fight dry mouth and gingival overgrowth. Try to stay hydrated at all times: Sip water or sugarless drinks throughout the day, and avoid coffee, tea, alcohol and caffeinated beverages. Avoid tobacco and spicy foods as well. Try chewing xylitol gum, a saliva stimulant, and use a humidifier at night. If you have gum overgrowth, studies suggest that more frequent visits to the dentist or periodontist (gum specialist) for professional cleanings can help bring the problem under control.
Hypertension is a potentially deadly disease—but in many cases it’s possible to control it without affecting other aspects of your health. This situation also shows how important it is keep all of your doctors (including your dentist!) informed about all the medications you are taking.
Call us at 1-800-238-5163 to find out about how dental savings plans can help make quality dental care affordable.