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How Treating a Cold Can Cause Cavities

added on: January 21, 2020

More than 3 million Americans get the common cold every year. That’s a lot of sneezes, running noses, and coughs that many of us will treat with over-the-counter medications. Even though these medications can help us feel a little bit better and relieve us of our symptoms, even temporarily, there are some reasons why your dentist in Austin recommends using cough and cold medicine carefully.

Risks of Cold Medicine on Oral Health

It’s easy to load up on cold medicine, especially when it helps stop a cough or un-stuff a nose. After all, there’s no reason you should have to suffer through your cold when there are medications out there that can help you feel better. But some of the most common cold medicines contain some ingredients that can put your smile in danger. Most notably, the sugars and alcohol found in many over-the-counter cold remedies. 

The Dangers of Sugars

Most medications that help with cold symptoms contain sugar. This is because, without it, medicine can taste pretty bad. But as everyone knows, your dentist in Austin really doesn’t like sugar, which includes those found in medications. Sugar is one of the top contributors to tooth decay. When we eat sugary foods, suck on cough drops, or take liquid cough medicine, the bacteria in our mouths feed on the sugars. These bacteria release an acidic byproduct that can wear away tooth enamel. Tooth enamel is the outside protective layer of teeth that protects it against decay. Without it, teeth are at increased risk for decay and cavities. 


The other common ingredient found in many cold medications is alcohol. Even though there’s not much of it, alcohol in medicine can still be a concern for your Austin dentist. Alcohol can easily cause dry mouth. Normally, dry mouth is alleviated naturally by saliva. A healthy mouth typically produces between 0.5 and 1.5 liters of saliva each day. This saliva helps neutralize acids and wash away bacteria. But those with dry mouth produce much less saliva which means those dangerous bacteria and acids are left behind and can increase the risk for tooth decay

Reduce the Risk

We understand that asking you to avoid medicine during a miserable cold is, well, miserable. So we’re certainly not suggesting that you don’t take medicine at all. What we do recommend, however, is that you take medicine at the right time and the right way to reduce its oral health risks. 

  • Try taking the medication as a pill instead of a liquid. Many medicines are available in both liquid and pill form. Pills or capsules will lower the teeth’s exposure to sugar and alcohol and reduce the risk of decay. 
  • Take medicine, and then brush your teeth. Brushing your teeth AFTER you take cough syrup, rather than before, can help remove the sugars and alcohol from your mouth and teeth. 
  • Eat something with your medicine. Eating food increases saliva production which will help wash away sugar and alcohol.

If you do happen to catch a cold, try these tips to not only feel better but also protect your teeth in the process.