The Cough and Cavity Connection

As the weather shifts with the seasons, more and more children and adults will contract persistent coughs related to either colds or allergies. We all know that coughing can lead to sore throats, lack of sleep, and other not so pleasant symptoms. Unfortunately, the go-to options to curb a cough can wreak havoc on your teeth. Whether you take the natural approach with lemon juice filled teas or spoonfuls of local honey, or the over-the-counter syrups, you could be setting up your mouth for cavities.

The Dangerous Trio
All of the above mentioned solutions to a cold weather cough contain three ingredients that either greatly damage your teeth’s enamel and/or create plaque throughout the mouth. Sugars, citric acids, and alcohol may seem like a short term remedy, but in reality, they can easily lead to permanent dental damage.

Citric acid naturally found in lemon has been directly linked with thinning and damaged tooth enamel. By weakening your teeth’s exterior, acid makes the softer insides of the tooth structure more susceptible to caries, cracking, and deep-seated plaque build-up. These types of acids are used in cough medicines to lend a fresh and edible flavor.

Sugars found in liquid medicine and raw honey are a favorite treat for oral bacteria. Constantly or consistently using sticky, liquid cough syrups and not properly cleaning your mouth will allow a plaque and tartar build-up, and lead to cavities, gingivitis, and worse oral problems.

Alcohol found in many bottled medicines dry out the mouth. It’s touted as a way to diminish the sinus and throat clogging mucus that often causes a cough or cold. Unfortunately, alcohol also greatly reduces saliva. Your saliva is necessary to keep oral bacteria and plaque under control.

Read more about contagious cavities here.

Helpful Hints to Protecting Your Teeth during Illness
If a cough medicine’s alcohol is drying out the saliva in your mouth while putting sugar and acids on your teeth and gums, you can see how cavities and other oral problems can easily develop. Thankfully, there are some ways you can use cough medicine and reduce your risk of cavities while doing so:

  • Take the syrups with foods to increase saliva production, removing any sugars or acids in the medicine from your teeth.
  • Consider taking a pill version of the medication. This will keep the ingredients from clinging to your teeth.
  • Brush your teeth regularly or more frequently while taking cough medicines. This is especially true before bedtime, as saliva production decreases as you sleep.
  • Drink more water than normal. Not only will this help keep your body hydrated as it fights whatever infliction you have, but it will also help keep your mouth free of the alcohol, sugars, and acids of the cough medicine and increase saliva production.
  • Only take as needed. Many syrup labels say to take every 4-6 hours, but if you are taking those many doses, you’re regularly subjecting your teeth to damage. Choosing to only use the cough medicine when your symptoms are the worst will cut back on detrimental tooth dilemmas.

Care for All of Yourself, Including Teeth
All of our Arlington office staff members want our patients to have a healthy rest of the year, but if you do end up with a cold, be sure that you are caring for your teeth as much as you’re caring for the rest of your body.

About Mark C. Marchbanks, D.D.S.

Dr. Mark Marchbanks has practiced dentistry in Arlington Texas since 1983. He enjoys caring for patients young and old. You can find Dr. Marchbanks on
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If it's been more than 6 months since your last teeth cleaning, give us a call today to schedule your check-up.

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