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Why Your Medical History And Medications Are Important To Your Dentist

Your dentist treats your mouth, right? So why does she or he need to know about your health and medications? And why is their health history form so long?

There are several reasons why your dentist needs accurate, updated information about your health conditions, medications, and supplements (herbal or otherwise). These include:

  • Your health condition may affect your mouth and influence what dental care you need or when you need it.
  • Your medications or natural supplements may produce side effects that impact your mouth.
  • We don’t want you to have an interaction or allergic reaction if we need to prescribe something for you.

Almost all health conditions have some oral effects. This can range from chicken pox showing up in the mouth before it does on the skin to an increased chance for periodontal disease and its accompanying loss of bone around your teeth. Dental researchers are studying links between periodontal disease and: diabetes, heart diseases, respiratory diseases, liver diseases and other health issues.

Let’s use diabetes as an example. Diabetes affects blood circulation which in turn affects wound healing. High blood sugar can also make you more prone to infections. If your dentist knows you have diabetes, she or he may prescribe an antibiotic after certain dental procedures to help your body reduce the number of infection-causing bacteria. Diabetics also are more likely to develop periodontal disease and to have it get worse at a faster rate. So your dentist will monitor you closely for any early signs of gum problems and treat them as soon as they are found.

Many medications have oral side effects. Dry mouth (or lack of saliva) is one that is common to many medications, but others include enlarged gums, discolored gums and taste alteration. Saliva (or “spit”) rinses plaque and food from your teeth. Why is this important? If you have less saliva to rinse your teeth, the sticky plaque remains on the teeth and has more time to cause cavities on your teeth or inflame your gums. If you dentist notices changes in your mouth, she or he can recommend steps to take and products to use to lessen the effects.

Some people neglect to tell their dentist about herbal supplements, vitamins or other health food store products because they think they aren’t “medicine”. The reality is that some herbal supplements can cause changes in your body that your dentist needs to know about before she or he can treat you. This is particularly true for surgical or other invasive dental care. (On a side note, recreational or illegal drug use should also be reported to your dentist as some of those also cause changes in your body that could interact with common dental materials like “novocaine”—sometimes fatally.)

Drug interactions can range from mild (such as one drug not performing as well as it should when the two are combined) to fatal (death). Allergic reactions have the same spectrum with mild being a rash and severe being anaphylactic shock. (Anaphylactic shock is why many people with severe allergies carry injectable medication with them to inject if they unexpectedly come in contact with their allergen—bee stings or peanuts are examples of this.) Though prescriptions from your dentist are not as frequent or run as long a term as ones from your physician, it is still important to make sure that what we give you is not going to interfere with another medication or with a body system that isn’t performing up to par. All medications are broken down in either your liver or your kidneys. If one of those isn’t functioning efficiently and we have an option to use something else, we will.

So your dentist is not just being nosy when she or he asks what health conditions you have, what medications you take, if you take any herbal or other supplements, or if you use drugs. The information you give is confidential (except in cases of emergency), and it just might save your life. At the very least, it is going to make your dental care more efficient and better tailored for you. So please, the next time we ask you to fill out or update a health history form, take a few minutes to make sure everything is accurate, even if you think nothing has changed.

If you have questions on a particular part of the health history and why it’s important, Dr. Robb will be glad to answer your questions. 

*Note: The information in this article is not meant to replace the clinical judgement of your healthcare providers.

Dr. Robb is accepting new patients. If you would like to become part of Dr. Robb’s dental practice, please call 440-960-1940.