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Is Cough Syrup Bad for Your Teeth?

There’s several things in the world that can mess up your oral health. But cough syrup and cavities? It seems like a stretch. And slightly controversial—after all, you do need it for those pesky coughing spells. But what if cough syrup does increase your risk of tooth decay? And what if I said you didn’t need cough syrup after all?   

Of course, cough medicine—as with all things—have their pros and cons. When we say cough syrup might contribute to tooth decay, the effect is just as potent as your standard carb-ridden meal. And some parents might find their children feeling better after a good spoonful. Going off research and general professional opinion, however, most people agree that cough medicines don’t really work for kids aged 6 and under. And they do have ingredients that can increase your chances of cavities.

How so, you may ask? Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of cough syrup and cavities:

How does cough syrup work, anyway?

Before we look at how cough syrup increases your risk of cavities, we should probably know how cough syrup works first. Understanding the types is an excellent way to start. As it turns out, not all cough medicines work the same way. Typically, you’ve got two kinds:

  • Expectorants. This type of cough syrup works by thinning out the gooey gunk blocking your airways. When you cough, after all, what your body’s trying to do is clear out these areas, so you don’t choke to death. The thinner the mucus, then, the less likely you’ll be hacking your lungs out. 
  • Cough suppressants. On the other hand, this type of cough syrup works by telling your brain to stop coughing. Or, at least, reduce the urge to. If you have a particularly wet cough, suppressants might not work as well. (And you probably shouldn’t take them if you’ve got a lot of mucus closing up your airways.)  

Of course, these types of medicines only really treat the symptoms. They don’t necessarily fix what causes them in the first place. So while you and your child might feel a lot better after a dosage, you’ll probably find yourself coughing again not too long after.

Why is cough syrup bad for your teeth?

Now that we’ve gotten into how cough medicines work, why are they bad for teeth, exactly? It really depends on what’s in them. According to the British Dental Journal, syrupy medications can wear out your enamel, increasing your risk of cavities. Add the low pH levels and acidity in certain formulations, and you’ve got a tasty cocktail for your oral bacteria. 

This combination of being cavity-friendly and relatively useless doesn’t put cough syrup in a good light. So if this isn’t the way to go, what then can you do when you find yourself in a bout of chest-wracking hacks? Well, a lot of other things. For one, taking in a lot of fluids could help loosen that mucus. Warm ones, in particular, are a great source of relief. For another, you can also use a humidifier or some nasal saline. Both methods prevent those passageways from drying out, which doesn’t just stop you from coughing more. It also gives an added dental benefit—it prevents a dry mouth and the slew of problems that come with it. 

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