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Cold and Flu Season, and the Dental Health Effect

Written by Consumer Guide to Dentistry   Last modified on March 15, 2018

It’s been a brutal cold and flu season; the worst since 2009 according to federal health officials. And it’s not over yet. The general health dangers associated with such an outbreak are well known. But did you know that your dental health can actually be impacted by the cold and flu?

Although your teeth might not exactly be on the top-of-your-mind when you’re sick, it’s nonetheless important that you’re aware of the potential oral health consequences. Here are some important teeth-protecting tips to keep in mind.

Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate

When you’re sick, your body’s defenses kick into high gear, which causes rapid depletion of fluids and potential dehydration. This is particularly bad for oral health because it can result in dry mouth, which leaves you at greater risk of tooth-attacking bacterial acid. If you have a stuffy nose and are forced to breathe through your mouth, it can further exacerbate the situation. And many over-the-counter cold and flu medications can actually cause dry mouth as a side effect. Therefore it is essential that you drink plenty of fluids when sick to counter dehydration.     

… Plenty of the Right Fluids

It’s essential that you drink plenty of fluid, but even more important that you choose the right type of fluid. Ideally you want to stick with water, which not only helps to keep you hydrated, but also helps to wash away decay-causing debris in the mouth. But when you’re sick and low on energy, you might be tempted to go for a pick-me-up in the form of Gatorade or an equivalent electrolyte-infused sports drink. Many of these drinks are high in sugar, which can be problematic for your teeth in high volumes. If you opt for juice, make sure to practice moderation and follow it with a drink of water. Or look for sugar-free juice alternatives. Otherwise you are at increased risk of tooth decay.

Swish and Spit

One of the nastier side effects of the flu can be vomiting. In addition to further dehydrating you, vomiting can have some serious oral health implications if not immediately countered. The stomach acids that cross through your mouth when vomiting come into contact with the teeth and can coat them with harmful residue. You might be tempted to brush your teeth to get rid of the foul taste, but this can actually compound the problem by spreading the acids around and weakening protective enamel. Instead, try swishing and spitting with a mixture of water and baking soda (1 teaspoon). Repeat this process several times to fully cleanse the mouth.

The water rinse should be followed approximately 30 minutes later with brushing your teeth.

Sugar-free Cough Drops

Cough drops are great when you’re sick. In addition to helping to stop those nagging coughing fits, they also help keep the flow of saliva at an optimal level (preventing dry mouth), and can counter the bad taste in the mouth that often accompanies the cold or flu. However, be sure that you’re picking up sugar-free cough drops at the pharmacy. Certain brands have tooth-attacking sugar that is more akin to candy, than medicine.

Don’t Forget to Brush and Floss!

It might seem rather obvious, but it’s important to maintain your regular hygiene practices when you are sick. It’s not uncommon to be too tired or feel too miserable to want to get up and take care of something as simple as brushing your teeth. But considering everything spelled out above, there is clearly a lot of potential damage in the mouth when you’re sick. So it’s important to make sure that you are still brushing twice a day, flossing and rinsing with mouthwash to help clear away any bacterial residue.

By following these basic strategies, you can help protect your teeth and mouth from harm, and focus on getting better.