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Hidden Sugars

Many people are aware that sugar causes tooth decay. When people think of sugar, they typically relate it to soda, candy, and cookies. What you might not be aware of is the sugar content in children’s liquid medications. What if something your child is taking on a daily basis to make them feel better was actually harming their teeth?

Many children are on daily medications whether they are prescription medications or over-the-counter medications. Allergies, infections and a variety of other conditions make it necessary to take a daily medication to keep symptoms under control or to improve health. What might surprise you is the amount of sugar that can be found in those liquid medications. The way they are able to make them more palatable is to add sugar, a familiar taste for many children. While it does work to make the medication taste better, it does increase the amount of sugar the child is consuming. After all, if the medication doesn't taste good, children aren't likely to take it.

Another hidden sugar can be found in gummy multivitamins. Dental hygienists are always teaching patients and parents to stay away from gummy, sticky candies such as fruit snacks. The sticky consistency and concentrated sugars make them a less than ideal choice for a snack. The consistency of the fruit snack can stay in the grooves of the teeth for an extended period of time. Also, children don't have the ability to self-cleanse their teeth as well as adults so the remnants of the fruit snacks are more likely to stay stuck in the teeth for a longer amount of time and increase the risk of developing tooth decay. Even though a gummy multivitamin is not a fruit snack, it does have the same properties as a fruit snack. Both can have sugar and are a sticky consistency. Because of these similarities, a gummy multivitamin with sugar can cause tooth decay in the same way that a fruit snack can.

What Can You Do?

When considering risk factors for dental caries, we consider the frequency at which the teeth are exposed to sugars. Repeated exposures can create an acid environment in the mouth. If a child needs to take a daily liquid medication, its best to see if there is a good sugar-free option. Parents can check with their primary care physician for guidance on finding a potential alternative. If they are not able to switch to a sugar-free option, advise them to sip on water after taking the medication and be sure to brush after. All too often, we see patients that are taking their allergy medication at night, after they have brushed and flossed. Decreased saliva production at night and a sugary liquid on the teeth is a recipe for tooth decay when done night after night.

As a general rule, it is best to avoid gummy multivitamins unless they are sugar-free. One alternative is to see if the patient can switch to a chewable, more chalky vitamin. These will dissolve more readily in the mouth and won’t linger on the teeth as long as a gummy multivitamin. If your child is not able to switch, they can try cutting up the vitamin into smaller pieces so they don't have to chew it as much and will lessen the chance of the gummy multivitamin getting stuck in the grooves of the teeth. Another option is to have the gummy multivitamin with a meal. The chewing of the food will help cleanse the vitamin from the teeth. Plus, its always a good idea to brush after eating a meal.

Hopefully, these tips will help parents be more aware of the hidden sugars that can be found in children’s medications. Although diet is only one part of the overall risk of developing tooth decay, it is a large part of the puzzle. Keeping your child on a well-balanced diet, limiting their added sugars and being sure to help them with their brushing and flossing, will reduce their overall risk of tooth decay.

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Sarah Lawrence,
Dental Hygienist, Myofunctional Therapist & Writer
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