When a patient is being treated for a broken bone, their dental health is probably the last thing on their mind. If they start to experience catastrophic dental problems while they’re being treated for orthopedic injuries, they may not even connect the two. In fact, this kind of treatment can lead directly to gum disease and tooth decay, and understanding how one can result from the other is vital to averting potential long-term damage.
Breaking a bone is painful. Unfortunately, both treatment of and recovery from such an injury are likely to be painful as well, especially if the break is severe. Patients going through long and difficult recoveries are likely to be prescribed narcotics to help alleviate the pain, and they may end up using those medications for extended periods of time. However, commonly prescribed pain medications have side effects that can directly impact a patient’s oral health.
For example, one medication often prescribed for moderate to severe pain is Vicodin (or its generic equivalent), which combines the opioid hydrocodone with the analgesic acetaminophen. This medication is strongly associated with dry mouth and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Both of these conditions are dangerous for your teeth, and in combination they can quickly damage your enamel.
Dry mouth removes the protective effect of saliva has in the mouth. Saliva sweeps food particles away from the teeth, neutralizes acids and restores the pH balance of the mouth, and inhibits the growth of bacteria that cause odor and decay. Without that protection, teeth can very quickly start to develop cavities, and infections can take hold in the gums. GERD damages teeth by propelling powerful stomach acids up into the throat and mouth, where they erode tooth enamel. When these two conditions occur together, a patient’s teeth can rapidly break down, because dry mouth allows the damaging acids from GERD to remain in contact with the teeth longer than they might otherwise.
Vicodin is only one example of a pain medication that can cause this problem. Both stronger pain relievers, such as Percoset, and milder pain relievers, such as naproxen, can have the same effect. Of course, it is neither practical nor humane to suggest forgoing pain relief in the face of a serious orthopedic injury. Instead, patients should consult with dental professionals as well as their doctors to explore alternatives, monitor any potential side effects, and address any damage to their teeth before it becomes severe.
Possible remedies can include switching medications to ones that do not produce the same side effects, therapies to combat the effect of dry mouth, medication to control GERD, and therapies for the teeth such as in-office fluoride treatments or sealants to protect the enamel. An oral surgeon can also suggest options to repair or replace any teeth that have already been severely damaged. Treatment for orthopedic injuries does not have to be a catastrophe for your teeth. To schedule a consultation with Dr. Hale, please call 888-326-1579 or fill out our online form below.