Cough drops and liquid cough syrups (and liquid medications in general) tend to be packed with sugars and acids to make them more palatable. Most commonly you’ll see these in the form of citric acid, high fructose corn syrup, and sucrose. You may have even turned to products made with honey in an effort to go the “natural” route, but unfortunately, sugar is sugar—no matter what form it’s in, it still causes cavities.
Although you may think you’d need to down gallons of cough syrup in order for it to have an effect on your teeth, the reality is that a lot of us don’t really think about when or how we take it. For one, cough drops sit in your mouth for a long time, often wedged between your teeth and your gums. This allows sugars in the cough drop to spend a whole lot of time clinging to the tooth, where it will break down into bacteria and wear away at the enamel and eventually cause cavities.
As for cough syrup, the problem is that many people take their dosage right before bed after they’ve brushed their teeth. This is problematic because the sticky, sweet syrup will spend all night clinging to your teeth and breaking down into bacteria as described above. In addition, we tend to create less saliva while sleeping, even mores if the cough syrup contains alcohol. This dry environment means less of the cough syrup will be cleaned away by saliva, leaving your teeth much more susceptible to damage for longer periods of time.
Here’s what you should do to help take care of your cold without sacrificing your teeth. First, take your medication with your meals, since this is when you’ll be producing the most amount of saliva and can allow your mouth the time to rid itself of the sticky stuff before bed. Plus, it’ll give your medication enough time to kick in before you get some shut-eye, allowing yourself to get more peaceful sleep.
Brushing and flossing after your meals and after the medication are also extremely important, just like it is every night. This will help get rid of any cough syrup your saliva hasn’t already gotten rid of, and a cleaner mouth will be able to withstand being a bit dryer overnight without damage occurring. Finally, be sure to keep yourself well hydrated at all times. This will help continue to flush bacteria from your mouth, and also help keep your body healthier in general while it’s fighting off the bug.
To help prevent the problem altogether, try to opt for pill medications over syrups and drops. However, if that’s not an option, look for sugar-free cough drops, which should be widely available in any grocery store or pharmacy. If you’re stuck with the syrup, though, keep the guidelines above in mind and you should have no problem keeping your teeth healthy, along with your body.