Some people prefer not to swallow aspirin whole; instead, they hold it in their mouth and chew or suck on it until it dissolves, perhaps believing it will act more quickly. Bitter taste aside, this practice has the potential for oral trouble, since research has shown aspirin, which is actually an acid, can eat away the gums and lining of the mouth. But not much is known about whether aspirin can also wreak havoc on the tooth itself. Researchers at the University of Maryland Dental School wanted to examine the effects on teeth of prolonged exposure to chewed aspirin.
What the researchers wanted to know: Can sucking or chewing an aspirin tablet harm the teeth?
What they did: The researchers reviewed the existing scientific literature in search of cases where mouth and tooth damage was likely caused by aspirin, then reported two cases of their own.
What they found: Two patients who chewed multiple aspirin tablets every day for an extended period of timeone took four to eight tablets daily for one to two years, the other said he took six tablets a day for two yearseventually came to the Brotman Facial Pain Center in Baltimore. Both used aspirin regularly to treat head or jaw pain, and when they noticed the medication burned their mouths, they moved it against the teeth instead, believing it wouldn't cause damage to the enamel. But both had significant enamel erosion caused by such persistent exposure to aspirin, and other factors that might have caused the erosionsuch as bulimia or heavy consumption of citrus juices or carbonated drinkswere ruled out. In addition, the pattern of aspirin placement in the mouth (in one case, the man held it on the right side only) conformed to the pattern of erosion.
What it means to you: Aside from potential stomach problems from downing so much aspirin, it's not a good idea to hold the tablets next to your teeth or mouth tissues. Continued chewing over the years could mean, in the worst case, that you need a new set of teeth. And though chewable versions taste better, they are still harmful if used chronically.
Caveats: These findings are based on case reports, not actual controlled studies. And there are only two cases. However, the mechanism for erosion by aspirin is well supported, and there is no quarrel with the ability of such prolonged and heavy exposure to aspirin to inflict damage. Keep in mind, too, that these two cases represent extreme use of aspirinas many as 2,900 tablets per year. Still, if you take aspirin regularly, it's best to swallow it with water rather than stick it between your cheek and gum.
Find out more: For more information than you ever thought was available on aspirin and its multiple uses, check out Bayer's site on the drug, www.aspirin.com
Read the article: Grace, E.G. et al. "Tooth Erosion Caused by Chewing Aspirin." The Journal of the American Dental Association. July 2004, Vol. 135, pp. 91114.