The weather is taking a turn for the worse, and that means piles of snow, freezing temperatures and the beginning of flu season. Though flu season is officially associated with January and February, the shift to winter that occurs in November and December wreaks its own havoc on the body. In fact, 5-20 percent of U.S. residents get the flu each year, and pneumonia and dehydration are just two of the serious and common complications associated with the illness.1 Because the flu is such a prevalent issue, prevention is key to staying healthy. While practicing proper hygiene and getting the flu shot are typical go-to methods of staving off influenza, taking care of your teeth can also prove advantageous for this purpose. Find out how your oral health plays a role in flu season:
"Periodontitis can increase your risk for pneumonia."
Keep your gums healthy
Gum disease can range anywhere from mild gingivitis to full blown periodontitis. Your biannual dental appointments may allow a dentist to spot the early stages and provide a treatment plan to prevent the more severe complications associated with periodontitis. Beyond just swollen, red and irritated gums, periodontitis can lead to other systemic illnesses, including pneumonia.
A study conducted by the Yale University School of Medicine found that oral bacterial changes, such as those that happen during periodontitis, can increase your risk for pneumonia.2 Over a month, researchers analyzed the oral health of 37 participants and found that those who got pneumonia had a higher presence of the oral bacteria associated with the illness.
You can manage plaque, which is a sticky bacterial film on your teeth, by brushing twice a day. Without proper oral hygiene, the plaque can harden in your gum line after a few days. This results in the buildup of tartar, which irritates the gums and can cause periodontitis.3 Gum disease opens the body to infections, as it can send bacteria through the bloodstream. Brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing once a day is vital to preventing both gingivitis and flu-season-related illnesses.
Moisturize dry mouth
Dry mouth, otherwise known as xerostomia, is characterized by a reduction in saliva flow, and it can cause problems with your dental health.4 Not only does dry mouth make it hard to chew and swallow, but it also takes away saliva, which is one of your mouth's main defenses against cavities. Saliva neutralizes bacteria in the mouth and can help wash away food particles, preventing them from rotting between your teeth. Unfortunately, flu season may contribute to dry mouth.
First, the congestion so often associated with the flu and colds may cause you to breathe through your mouth. The increased air flow in this area may contribute to dry mouth. What's more, certain medications have side effects that can cause dry mouth, and the use of prescriptions or over-the-counter treatments tends to increase during flu season.
If you experience dry mouth during flu season or otherwise, be sure to drink plenty of fluids. Not only will water moisten the mouth, but it may also help alleviate cold symptoms. Sipping warm liquids specifically, like hot tea, can loosen mucus.5
Don't reinfect yourself
Don't allow the bacteria on your toothbrush during your period of sickness reinfect you when you're better. To avoid this, thoroughly rinse your toothbrush after each use. However, some research has suggested that even this practice doesn't completely remove potentially pathogenic organisms.6 As such, while general dental health guidelines suggest replacing your toothbrush every three to four months, it's best to throw away your toothbrush after any bout of sickness.
1. "Seasonal Flu," Flu.gob, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.flu.gov/about_the_flu/seasonal/index.html
2. "Link Found Between Pneumonia and Oral Hygiene," Mohammad Salhut, Yale News, January 25, 2012. http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2012/01/25/link-found-between-pneumonia-and-oral-hygiene/
3. "Gingivitis," Mayo Clinic, January 22, 2014. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gingivitis/basics/definition/con-20021422
4. "Dry mouth," Mayo Clinic, Aug. 25. 2015. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dry-mouth/basics/definition/con-20035499
5. "Common Cold," Mayo Clinic, April 3, 2015. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/common-cold/in-depth/cold-remedies/art-20046403
6. "The Use and Handling of Toothbrushes," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July 20, 2013. http://www.cdc.gov/OralHealth/infectioncontrol/factsheets/toothbrushes.htm