Beware of Medications This Cold and Flu Season

With cold season in full swing and multiple strains of a deadly flu ravaging the country this winter, for most people, staying healthy and finding relief when necessary is a top priority. But what you may not realize is that the very medicines that help provide that much-needed relief from cold and flu symptoms could be doing a number on your oral health. That’s because, according to Wexford, Pennsylvania, dentist Alexandra George, some over-the-counter (and even some prescription) medications are packed with a sneaky hidden ingredient: sugar.

“Sugar and dyes are common additives to cold and cough medicines to make them taste better,” says George. “If they didn’t taste good, nobody would use them – especially not children.”

But while that sticky sugar may “help the medicine go down,” it isn’t doing any favors to your teeth.

“The problem with the sugar in cough medicines is that it’s very sticky, and it coats your teeth,” says George. “Naturally this leaves your teeth vulnerable to bacteria like s. mutans, which feed on that sugar.”

And therein lies the problem. When the bacteria eat the sugar, they leave behind a little souvenir – an acidic bi-product that eats away at the enamel of your teeth, causing dental caries, or as they are more commonly known, cavities.

Not only that, but with dry mouth listed as a known side effect to over 400 medications and the high potential for a hacking cough, your mouth can get pretty arid, another condition oral bacteria thrive upon.

“A cold or flu with a deep cough is basically a perfect storm for cavities, whether you treat it with cough medicine or not,” says George.

But there are things you can do. George recommends rinsing with water every time you take cough or cold medicine – and after using cough drops, too.

“Drink a glass of water with your medicine. Don’t brush your teeth or spit the water out – you want to get all of the medicine you can, but you definitely don’t want it hanging out on your teeth,” says George.

Another tip George recommends? Don’t forget to brush.

“I know when you’re sick the last thing you want to do is get out of bed to brush your teeth, but make sure you are still caring for your teeth when you’re sick, even if you’re temporarily bedridden,” she says. “Unfortunately, oral bacteria don’t take sick days.”

Dr. Alexandra S. George

Medically reviewed by Dr. Alexandra S. George - D.D.S., L.Vl.I.F. on March 12th, 2018