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News / October 19, 2009

Experts flag up dangers of sugary medicine

by Guy Hiscott

The dental health implications of sugar-containing liquid medicines are not sufficiently recognised by healthcare professionals, according to a correspondence piece published on the Irish Medical Journal website.

A group of experts from Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin, Dublin, wrote Prescribing sugar-containing medicines for children – are we forgetting ‘primum non nocere’?, recommending the prescription of sugar-free medicines wherever possible.

One of the greatest problems is that often there is little distinction between the packaging of the sugar-containing and sugar-free medicines.

The authors write: ‘Artificial sweeteners are frequently used instead of sucrose in liquid medications in order to avoid the deleterious effects of sugar-containing formulations on dental health but their use is not universal. Some liquid medicines are available in both sugar-free and sugar-containing forms and the packaging of both formulations may be similar in appearance.

‘For example there is an abundance of formulations of liquid paracetamol, ibuprofen and antitussives available over the counter for a range of common ailments and careful examination is required to differentiate between sugar-free and sugar-containing versions. Thus there may be confusion as to which liquid formulations contain sugar and which are sugar-free.’

If no sugar-free alternative is available, parents should be given advice as to the best ways to reduce the risk of ‘the development of extensive early childhood caries’. For example, parents should try to avoid giving their children sugar-containing liquid medicines at bedtime, rather to be given only at mealtimes.

To read the full article and view the accompanying illustrations and tables, visit