Can Cough Syrup Cause Cavities?

Tooth Character

It’s well established that both cough drops and cough syrup contain ingredients that can contribute to tooth decay and oral health issues. A child’s teeth are most susceptible to cough syrup, particularly if they use cough medicine and then go to bed without brushing their teeth.  The purpose of cough syrup is to coat the throat, but it also coats the teeth.

Sugar, Alcohol and Cavities

Cough syrup usually has a sweet taste because of the sugar in it, but it also often contains citric acid and alcohol. Alcohol can make the mouth dry.  Bacteria in the mouth feed on that sugar, and the acid forms around the teeth from the bacteria. Saliva naturally cleans the acid away, but because of the drying effect of alcohol coupled with the naturally diminished production of saliva during sleep, sufficient saliva isn’t produced to clean off the citric acid. That means the acid from the bacteria is left on the teeth for hours resulting in tooth decay.

Cavity Prevention During Cold and Flu Season

If you’re going to give your child cough syrup during cold and flu season, give it to them well before they go to bed and make sure that they brush and floss their teeth before their head hits the pillow. If you have to wait until just before the child goes to bed before taking the cough syrup, have them brush and floss to remove the sugar from the surface of their teeth. Pills or capsules are the best alternatives to liquid cough medicine, and they work just as well so long as your child can swallow pills or capsules.

Tooth decay can cause pain and destroy teeth that you and your kid’s dentist work so hard to maintain. Quality oral health for your kids helps keep your children healthy and reduces the costs of dental care. A little sugar, citric acid and alcohol in a dose of cough syrup might seem insignificant, but it can adversely affect their oral health over time, particularly before bedtime.  Follow our cough medication recommendations for the optimal dental care of your child.