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HomeFood & DrinkChildren’s Medicine: How to Keep Cough Syrup from Causing Cavities

Children’s Medicine: How to Keep Cough Syrup from Causing Cavities

A quick walk down the aisle at your local pharmacy will reveal an alarming amount of sugar.  Most medicine that we give our children is combined with a thick syrup made up of sugar and corn syrup.  For more information on the different sugars that hurt your teeth, read my article about the five sugars that damage your teeth.

Sugar in Children's MedicineWhen you give your child syrupy medicine, the sugary syrup clings to your child’s teeth.  Because the medicine is so thick, it can stay around in your child’s mouth for a lot longer than sugary drinks such as soda pop that are more easily washed away by saliva.

It’s unlikely that you’re giving your child medicine just for fun — you’re likely giving them something that they need to return to full health or to be more comfortable.  So, the most important concern you have is to get a sick child to take their medicine at all!  But since you need to give your so or daughter medicine in syrup form to get them healthy again, here’s how you can do it without causing harm to their teeth.

How to Give Children Cough Syrup Without Hurting Their Teeth

Here’s a few suggestions that you can try when giving your child medicine in syrup form:

1 – Dilute the syrup with water.  By diluting the syrup you are doing two things: you are making it less sticky, so it’s easier to get rinsed away by your child’s saliva.  You are also decreasing the concentration of the sugar in the medicine, which will provide less sugar to feed the plaque that live on your child’s teeth.  One caution: your child will still need to drink the entire amount of liquid you have diluted the medicine in to get its intended effects, so don’t dilute it too much – sick kids often have decreased appetites and once you have diluted the medicine, it will be difficult to guess how much medicine they have actually ingested.  So don’t overdo it!  Also, don’t dilute their medicine if they are having a hard time keeping other food or liquids down – in this case, just get them to take the medicine as is and try to rinse their mouth out after, as described below.

2 – Try having them drink it through a small straw.  When we drink anything through a straw, it bypasses our teeth and gets whisked to the back of the mouth and swallowed almost immediately.  By avoiding contact with most of the mouth, the syrup doesn’t have much of an opportunity to damage your child’s teeth.  Some medicines will be too thick to do this with, so use your judgment or dilute it slightly first, as mentioned above.

3 – Have your child drink water afterwards, or at least rinse out their mouth after having the medicine.  This suggestion is probably the most important and most easily done.  If your child can drink some water, or rinse out their mouths and spit it out, it will remove most of the sugar that hangs out in their mouth waiting to get turned into acid by the plaque.

4 – Avoid giving the medicine right before bedtime if possible.  If you give your child a syrupy medicine and then send him or her right off to bed, your child will fall asleep with sugar-coated teeth.  When we sleep, our saliva production decreases dramatically.  Without the saliva there to wash away the syrup, it can stay on your child’s teeth all night.  This is the main reason why toddlers get lots of cavities; they drink sugary drinks right before they fall asleep, or even worse,  their parents give them a bottle when putting them to bed.

If you need to give your child a bottle to get them to fall asleep, the best thing to give them is pure water.


Cold medicine may seem like an insignificant source of sugar in the grand scheme of things but every bit of sugar your child ingests adds up.  By following these four suggestions, you can reduce the potential damage caused by these cold medicines.  Of course, the most important thing when your child is sick is to get he or she feeling better; but if your child is able to take their medicine in one of these ways it will prevent the medicines they need to take from harming their teeth.

Do you have any comments or questions about giving medicine to children and its effects on the teeth?  Leave them below in the comments section!




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