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What Are Generic Drugs?

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Published date field Last Updated:

Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Generic drugs line the pharmacy walls, interspersed among name-brand drugs. You may wonder, though, if the generic bottle you are looking at differs at all from the brand-name version. Here's what you need to know about generic and brand-name drugs used in dentistry.

Generic vs. Brand-Name Drugs

Generics drugs are considered “copies“ of brand-name drugs because they are required to contain the same active ingredient, have the same strength and use the same dosage form (e.g., tablet or liquid) and same route of administration (e.g., oral or topical). The key differentiating factor is the time at which they become available on the market. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notes that, once a brand-name drug is developed, companies must wait until any patents and exclusivity periods expire before selling generic versions of that medication. That said, the two medications may not be exactly alike. As a review article in the Saudi Pharmaceutical Journal explains, while the active ingredients are identical, the inactive ingredients of generic and brand-name drugs can vary.

Generic medications can be sold at a lower price point than brand-name medications. In fact, the FDA notes that a generic medication can save a customer 85% of the brand-name cost.

Safety of Generic Drugs

According to the FDA, generic drugs are made to replicate the dosage, safety, strength, quality and performance of brand-name drugs. Both function in the same way with the same benefits and risks.

Because the active ingredients in a brand-name drug and its generic version are the same, your pharmacist is actually required in many states within the U.S. to provide the generic option unless the prescribing doctor specifically requests that the brand-name version be provided, as an article in Health Economics explains. This is called mandatory substitution, and your pharmacist or state government can provide more information regarding how these laws operate where you live.

Generic Medications Used in Dentistry

In the dental office, you will encounter many medications sold as generics, as outlined by the Cleveland Clinic:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, for pain relief
  • Corticosteroids to relieve redness and gum discomfort
  • Anesthetics used in injections to numb an area of your mouth
  • Chlorhexidine to control plaque and gingivitis, often given in a mouthrinse
  • Prescription fluoride to prevent cavities, available in forms including toothpaste, mouthrinse and tablet
  • Pilocarpine, an oral medication to stimulate salivary flow in cases of dry mouth
  • Antibiotics for oral infections, which can come in a pill, gel or mouthrinse

What Does This Mean for Your Health?

If your dentist gives you a generic medication during or after your appointment, know that they have selected it because of its equivalent use and effectiveness to the brand-name variant.

You should always take medications, including generics, as prescribed by your doctor or dentist — but if you would prefer the brand-name version of the medication, bring it up. Ask your dentist what their opinion is and whether the risks and benefits of each choice vary. If you notice side effects, mention that to your doctor, too, and they can guide you to the best medication choice for your body.


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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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