Could Cold And Flu Medicines Be Damaging Your Teeth?
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It’s that time of year again. You’re feeling a bit under the weather, with a cough, a stuffy head and a running nose, or just a case of the sniffles, making you look like Rudolph even though the festive season is over and done with. But the cold weather persists, and the bugs keep spreading. To relieve your symptoms and get you through the day, you might want to reach for your favourite remedy. But while these ‘miracle cures’ (or just get-me-to-work cures) might be good for your health, most of them aren’t so great for your teeth. So if you’re aiming for good dental health, there are a few things you need to keep an eye on.
The whole idea of decongestants is that they dry out all that mucus and nasty stuff that tends to clog your airways when you’re ill. The problem is, it dries everything else out as well. Dry mouth is a very common side effect of decongestants, and the reduced saliva makes your mouth a perfect breeding ground for bacterial growth. Fortunately, this is easily remedied by drinking a lot of water and staying hydrated. Decongestants are a temporary medicine, so you don’t have to worry about it for long.
Quick, easy and convenient, when you have a sore throat, a lozenge or cough drop is the best solution. But their effectiveness is also their biggest problem. They are designed to dissolve slowly in your mouth – meaning you hold them in your mouth for a long time. You rattle them around your teeth, suck on them and generally spread the flavourings and high-sugar ingredients around your mouth. While a lot of the ingredients in these lozenges are medicinal, a lot of them are purely for flavour and sweetness – meaning they are full of sugar. So if you need throat lozenges to beat that tickly cough, try to opt for sugar-free ones instead.
Liquid Cold Medicine
These are the real culprits. Those thick, sticky, sweet liquids are great for soothing sore throats, but they contain an awful lot of sugar. They’re also incredibly sticky, which means you will end up with a coating of almost pure sugar on your teeth for hours afterwards. This can lead to bad breath and tooth decay. Some of these medicines also include alcohol (to sterilise germs), which reduces the amount of saliva you produce. This makes it even more difficult to wash away that coating. If you can, switch to pills or gel-capsules to completely eliminate the threat to your teeth. Where you can’t, make sure you’re drinking plenty of water and brush your teeth after taking it when you can.
Hot, lemony tea is something a lot of British people love as their ‘home remedy’ for coughs and colds. For some, a drop of brandy makes it even better! And while there are few things more soothing for a sore throat than a nice hot drink (and some of the compounds in tea can do wonders for an upset stomach), it can contribute significantly to tooth erosion. This is particularly true if you drink your tea black, since black tea has been proven to have a significantly higher impact on tooth erosion. If you’re a big tea drinker when you have a cold, you might want to consider drinking it through a straw to minimise contact with your teeth, or use less sweetener. You don’t have to ditch the tea – but you should brush your teeth more often.
Because you’re told to keep hydrated and up your vitamin C intake (to boost your immune system) when you have a cold, people tend to drown themselves in orange juice several times a day when they are ill. And while it is good to drink it for all those benefits and more, it’s not good in large quantities. Orange juice is a form of citric acid, and drinking a lot of it can soften the enamel on your teeth, making it easier to wear away and cause damage. But because it is beneficial, we aren’t going to tell you to stop drinking it altogether. Instead, we’re going to recommend that you drink all of your orange juice for the day in one sitting. This way, you can brush your teeth afterwards and get rid of all the harmful citric acid that will cling on/ during the day, sip water, and reserve your juice and sugary drinks for meal times.
Dental health is a year-round commitment, and it’s especially important when you’re not well. It might feel like the last thing you want to do, but when your immune system is low and you are already battling infections or viruses, you need to stay on top of your dental hygiene. Drink lots of water, and make sure you ditch the toothbrush when you’re better for a nice, sparkly new one (that isn’t housing all of your sickness germs).