Adverse drug interactions in dental practice: interactions associated with vasoconstrictors. Part V of a series

J Am Dent Assoc. 1999 May;130(5):701-9. doi: 10.14219/jada.archive.1999.0280.


Background: Adrenergic vasoconstrictors are commonly used by dentists to enhance the pain-relieving action of local anesthetics and to control local bleeding. Although normally considered safe for these applications, vasoconstrictors can participate in drug interactions that potentially are harmful to patients.

Methods: The faculty of a March 1998 symposium entitled "Adverse Drug Interactions in Dentistry: Separating the Myths From the Facts" extensively reviewed the literature on drug interactions. They then established a significance rating of alleged adverse drug interactions pertaining to dentistry, based on the quality of documentation and severity of effect. The author of this article focused on the adrenergic vasoconstrictors epinephrine and levonordefrin.

Results: Vasoconstrictor drug interactions involving tricyclic antidepressants, nonselective beta-adrenergic blocking drugs, certain general anesthetics and cocaine are well-documented in both humans and animals as having the potential for causing serious morbidity or death. Evidence for adverse interactions involving adrenergic neuronal blocking drugs, drugs with alpha-adrenergic blocking activity, local anesthetics and thyroid hormones is much less compelling, suggesting for the most part that clinically significant reactions may occur only when both the vasoconstrictor and the interacting drug are used in excessive doses. In the case of monoamine oxidase inhibitors, there is no credible evidence of a significant interaction with epinephrine or levonordefrin.

Conclusions: Potentially serious adverse drug interactions involving adrenergic vasoconstrictors can occur in dental practice. In most circumstances, careful administration of small doses of vasoconstrictors and avoidance of gingival retraction cord containing epinephrine, coupled with monitoring of vita signs, will permit these drugs to be used with no risk or only minimally increased risk. Only in the case of cocaine intoxication must adrenergic vasoconstrictors be avoided completely.

Clinical implications: For optimal patient safety, dentists must recognize potential drug interactions involving adrenergic vasoconstrictors and modify their use of these agents accordingly.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic Agents / adverse effects
  • Adrenergic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Dental Care*
  • Drug Interactions
  • Humans
  • Vasoconstrictor Agents / adverse effects
  • Vasoconstrictor Agents / pharmacology*


  • Adrenergic Agents
  • Vasoconstrictor Agents