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How Do Herbal Medications Differ from Conventional Drugs?

 

Although many of the prescription and over-the-counter drugs used today are derived from plants, there is a big difference between the two. Conventional drugs, which must be approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), are based on an active ingredient. Manufacturers find a chemical that provides a desired response when taken into the body, and then they synthesize that chemical. 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 or botanical medications are taken from the natural chemicals within a plant. Either the extract is taken in its original form, sometimes combined with other herbal extracts, or it is 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.

 

Why do I need to tell my dentist if I take herbal supplements?

 

Always tell your dentist about all medications and supplements you are taking and how much you take. From vitamins to Echinacea, everything you put in your body causes a certain reaction, and some alternative medicines are very potent. That reaction can interfere with medications your dentist gives you or enhance them to cause a much stronger 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.

 

What are some combinations I should avoid taking?

 

Even the most common herbal and vitamin supplements can have serious side effects for some patients. Blood thinners, such as the popular ginkgo biloba, and even vitamin E can be dangerous when taken with aspirin, which also acts as a blood thinner. Because this may cause a situation in which some patients' blood will have difficulty clotting, serious surgical procedures should be avoided after taking such a combination of supplements.

 

Vitamins can be dangerous as well, if you aren't careful. Vitamin C, when taken in the thousands of grams, can cause problems and weaken the efficiency of anesthesia. On the other hand, if you are taking a calming supplement, such as kava kava or St. John's wort, this can enhance the effects of the anesthesia your dentist gives you and cause problems.

 

What will my dentist do when I tell him or her about the supplements I take?

 

It is important that your dentist has all the information, including your medical history, herbal medication and conventional drugs you are taking. If your dentist knows that you are taking a medication that can interact with something he or she is planning on giving you, there are a variety of solutions from which to choose. Your dentist may have you stop taking the herbal medication until the treatment is over or choose a different drug for treatment, if one is available. There are so many new alternative medications on the market today that a dentist may not know about all of them and their side effects. If your dentist is not familiar with the medication, he or she will make it his or her job to find out if a treatment is safe for your situation.

 

Many patients who take alternative medicines may not tell their dentist. They are afraid the dentist will not respect their decision to take an herbal medication and might tell them to stop taking it. The truth is, 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.

 

Where can I go for information on alternative therapies?

 

The best person to ask is a physician who is licensed in naturopathic medicine. There are a few accredited schools in the United States that offer degrees in natural healing. Some of these schools can offer referrals to their graduates. For example, you can go to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians Web site to look up a variety of licensed practitioners in your area.

 

Reviewed: January 2012

 

 

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