Pharmacology in Dentistry

Instructor: Jennifer Preuss

Jen has practiced for 15 years in the healthcare field and has a Master's Degree in Education.

In this lesson, you will learn about dental pharmacology and the different medications that are used in the dental field to treat conditions that occur in the mouth. You will also learn about the side effects of each of these medications and questions to ask your dentist when each of the medications is used or prescribed.

'My mouth is killing me!'

You wake up one morning with a terrible toothache. You have a huge presentation to give and this is the last thing you need right now. Your mouth is swollen and throbbing, and you need to go and see a dentist ASAP. But how in the world are they going to make this swelling and pain go away? That's where dental pharmaceuticals come into play.

Defining Dental Pharmacology

Dental pharmacology is the study of drugs, or pharmaceuticals, typically used in the dental field. The most common types of drugs used by a dentist or dental professional are analgesics, antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, and anesthetics. Each drug works in a different way to address whatever the dental issue may be.


Obviously, in the case of having a terrible toothache, your first concern is to make the pain stop. Analgesics are drugs that are used to get pain under control. This category includes many classes of medications, but the ones most commonly used in dentistry are acetaminophens, such as Tylenol, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Motrin. Opioids, such as oxycodone or hydrocodone, can also be used to control pain. Keep in mind, though, that while these drugs will help control the pain, you still need to address the actual cause of the pain. As with any medication, there are side effects of analgesics that can include upset stomach, dizziness, and diarrhea.


The terrible pain that you're feeling is most likely caused by inflammation occurring from an infection, so it's important to get the infection under control. This can be done by using another category of drugs known as antibiotics. Antibiotics are used in healthcare to treat bacterial infections. Many dental infections stem from bacteria in the mouth that cause plaque formation, dental cavities, and periodontal disease. In order to get the infection under control, an antibiotic, such as Penicillin, Amoxicillin, or Keflex, would be prescribed. Side effects of antibiotics can include fungal or yeast infections, diarrhea, or upset stomach. Many people also have allergies to certain antibiotics, so it's very important to make sure your dentist knows if you have had an allergic reaction to an antibiotic in the past.

Anti-inflammatory drugs

Another way to get the pain-causing inflammation under control is to prescribe or recommend an anti-inflammatory drug. Anti-inflammatory drugs are used to reverse active inflammation. Many of these drugs can be prescribed or are available over-the-counter. Motrin is a commonly used anti-inflammatory drug used in dentistry because it helps with the tooth pain and also helps tackle the inflammation causing the pain. There are also side effects of anti-inflammatory drugs that include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, or drowsiness.

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