When you take a medication sublingually, you place it under the tongue. Taking a medication buccally involves placing it between your gums and cheek. With both, the drug absorbs into your blood.

Sublingual and buccal medication administration are two different ways of giving medication by mouth. Sublingual administration involves placing a drug under your tongue to dissolve and absorb into your blood through the tissue there. Buccal administration involves placing a drug between your gums and cheek, where it also dissolves and is absorbed into your blood. Both sublingual and buccal drugs come in tablets, films, or sprays.

Your doctor may prescribe sublingual or buccal drugs under any of the following circumstances:

  • the drug needs to get into your system quickly
  • you have trouble swallowing medication
  • the medication doesn’t absorb very well in the stomach
  • the effects of the drug would be decreased by digestion

The cheek and area under the tongue have many capillaries, or tiny blood vessels. There, drugs can be absorbed directly into the bloodstream without going through your digestive system.

Sublingual or buccal forms of drugs have their advantages. Because the medication absorbs quickly, these types of administration can be important during emergencies when you need the drug to work right away, such as during a heart attack.

Further, these drugs do not go through the digestive system, so they aren’t metabolized through your liver. This means you may be able to take a lower dose and still get the same results.

Another advantage is that you don’t have to swallow the drug. Drugs that are absorbed under the tongue or between the cheek and gum can be easier to take for people who have problems swallowing pills.

On the other hand, sublingual and buccal drugs also have some disadvantages. Eating, drinking, or smoking, can affect how the drug is absorbed and how well it works. Also, these forms don’t work for drugs that need to be processed slowly by your system, such as extended-release formulations. Any open sores in your mouth can also become irritated by the medication.

Tell your doctor if you smoke or have open sores in your mouth if they prescribe sublingual or buccal medication for you. Also ask your doctor how long you need to wait before you can drink and eat after taking the medication. For some of these drugs, you can’t drink, swallow, eat, or smoke for some time. Sometimes these drug forms can irritate your mouth. Tell your doctor right away if this happens to you.