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Using herbal supplements? Why you should tell your dentist.

Let your dentist know about herbal supplements

Whether it's echinacea or aspirin, always tell your dentist about any medications and supplements you are taking.

Everything you ingest, even vitamins, causes a certain reaction. If your dentist doesn’t know what drugs or supplements you have taken, he or she will not know how to protect you from possible substance interactions. This is particularly important if you are undergoing any surgical treatment.

Conventional versus herbal

Although many conventional (prescription and over-the-counter) medications sold in the United States are derived from plants, they are different from herbal medications. Conventional drugs, which must be approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration, are based on an active ingredient or chemical that manufacturers synthesize when they develop the drug. In other words, a conventional drug is based on a chemical that is made in a laboratory, even though it may have originally come from a plant.

Herbal (also called botanical or alternative) medications are made from natural chemicals extracted from a plant and are produced either in original form (sometimes combined with other herbal extracts) or refined. When an herbal medication is refined, the essential extract is taken out of the plant source, concentrated and then added back to make the original herbal medication more potent.

Combinations to avoid

Even seemingly innocuous herbal and vitamin supplements can have serious side effects for a few dental patients. Here are some combinations to be aware of:

  • Ginkgo biloba and vitamin E can be dangerous when taken with aspirin because they each can act as blood thinners. The combination may cause difficulties in blood clotting, which could be serious for patients undergoing surgery.
  • Taking high dosages of vitamins before undergoing anesthesia can also cause concern. In particular, vitamin C, often taken in high dosages for cancer treatment, can weaken the efficiency of anesthesia, among other problems.
  • Calming supplements, such as Kava Kava or St. John's Wort, can strengthen the effects of anesthesia.

What your dentist can do

Always provide your dentist with a complete medical history, including any herbal medication and conventional drugs you are taking.

Some patients who take alternative medicines are afraid the dentist will not respect their decision to take an herbal medication and will tell them to stop taking it; however, as herbal medications become more popular, many dentists are beginning to use them in their practices. Your dentist might even have an alternative, herbal solution for you.

If an herbal medication could interfere with your dental treatment, your dentist may ask you to stop taking the medication until the treatment is complete. The dentist also may be able to prescribe a different drug for treatment, if one is available.

Taking herbal supplements? Tell your dentist. Academy of General Dentistry