How the Flu and Oral Health Are Related

We’re about to enter a season that’s dreaded by teachers and employers and not to mention doctor’s offices: Flu season.

While many think that washing one’s hands regularly and getting a flu shot are the best ways to avoid getting the flu, there are other considerations – including oral health – that can reduce one’s chances.

Also, if you are one of the unlucky millions who will have a close encounter with the flu virus this year, there are some important things you know about when it comes to your teeth, mouth and ways to prevent serious damage.

Prevention begins at the mouth

There are some things you can do to improve your oral health game that can reduce your chances of contracting the flu. First, make sure you are cleaning your teeth and flossing regularly: plaque build-up on the teeth contains bacteria that can negatively impact your tooth and gum health. If you are exposed to the virus that causes the flu – which can occur by simply touching a surface with the germ then your mouth – having compromised teeth and gums increases your chance of developing the flu.

Another important thing to remember is to avoid introducing the flu virus to your mouth or other mucus membranes (such as the nose and eyes) in the first place. That means washing your hands with soap and water after touching a shared public surface that may contain the virus.

Oral care after contracting the flu

If you’ve developed the flu, here are some important things to do to help reduce the length of time you are ill.

Gargle with salt water or mouthwash. If you develop a sore throat, gargling with salt water or mouthwash approved for sore throats. Salt can help kill off sore throat-causing germs and increase the speed of your recovery.

Keep the saliva flowing. Drink a lot of water – this helps your body fight off the virus as well as keep your mouth moist. Having a dry mouth (as is often common with the flu) does not help your teeth, as you need saliva present in the mouth to fend off plaque.

Swish with water and brush after digestive distress. If you have stomach flu, make sure to swish your mouth with water immediately after vomiting. Stomach acids are very harmful to teeth and can wear them down. You shouldn’t brush immediately after vomiting, but instead wait 30 seconds or longer after switching with water. This is because you could hurt your enamel even further if you brush it immediately after it’s been exposed to stomach acid.

Disinfect your bite guard. If necessary, over-the-counter bite guards can be replaced easily, but soaking bite guards or retainers that are meant to last for years in an antiseptic mouthwash is a good idea. However, do not use hot water on them, as that may cause the plastic to soften and lose its shape. You can also contact your dentist’s office to ask for help disinfecting retainers or bite guards with cold sterilization.

Replace your toothbrush following a cold or illness. Although some studies have shown that re-infection is unlikely, toothbrushes have been shown to grow and harbor bacteria. Better safe than sorry!

Stay home and rest. We always encourage our patients to reschedule if they are sick on the day of their appointment.  It is best avoid exposing office staff and other patients to infection; plus, you will recover better (and hopefully faster!) by staying home and resting.

Getting additional help

For more information on oral health and to get a check-up, come see Cosmic Smiles for Kids & Adult Dentistry at one of our convenient Naples or Marco Island locations. You can always set up an appointment online at our website.

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