Cough Syrups: Can They Cause Cavities?

A young man smiling and showing uneven, yellowed teeth

When you or anyone in the family has a cough, cold, or flu, it is easy to find relief in cough drops or liquid medication. The sad part is, many over-the-counter cough medicines contain ingredients that can make the teeth more susceptible to cavities. Most of them are inactive components used to enhance the taste and color of the medication.

Other Forms of Sugar

Some liquid medications contain high levels of sucrose and fructose corn syrup. These are other forms of sugar that can fuel the bacteria in the mouth, contributing to acid attack and enamel erosion. They can put teeth at increased risk of decay, particularly if combined with dry mouth or poor oral hygiene.


Citric acid is also present in some cough medications, and this can soften and wear away the enamel. Family dentists in Lone Tree Colorado note that the thing about high acid levels is that it allows the bacteria to multiply and attack the teeth at a faster pace. Citric acid is used to improve the medicine’s flavor, but it does affect its therapeutic action.


Some medicines also contain alcohol, which can contribute to dry mouth. With low saliva flow, the sugars and acids will remain longer in the mouth and then result in increased risk of decay. Some manufacturers use alcohol for suppressing a cough reflex.

You don’t need to avoid cough syrup or other liquid medications when relieving cough or cold. It is best to take the syrup at mealtimes instead of bedtime, so there is enough saliva to rinse away the sugars and the acid.

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Here are a few things you can do to reduce the impact of sugars and acids:

  • Brush your teeth after taking the liquid medication.
  • If brushing is not possible, rinse your mouth with water or chew a sugar-free gum.
  • Choose a fill or tablet form of medication if available.

Keep your teeth healthy in the process when taking cough syrup or liquid medication. It is also important to keep up with proper oral hygiene and regular dental visits, so you can prevent or minimize your risk of other dental health issues.