The winter months of the year are when cold and flu cases are usually at their peak. The lack of daylight, the colder temperatures and the subsequent runny noses are just a few of the reasons our bodies get more run down this time of year and why it’s easier to get sick. A question we get asked a lot at our GTA dental clinics is whether a great oral health care routine can help fight off these annoying illnesses and help keep us healthy.
Unfortunately, the answer isn’t very clear, for one because there hasn’t been any hard evidence published that has directly linked brushing and flossing with cold/flu prevention, but also even with a proper routine, you might still catch a cold.
That being said, having healthy teeth and gums is vital to maintaining an immune system that’s in top shape. A well-oiled immune system is not just good against the flu but also helps you be less likely to develop other systemic ailments. For these reasons the answer we usually give is “Yes, your oral health care routine has an influence on how well your body is able to resist getting sick during the winter.” Great oral care can help you stay healthy all year. For more info click here.
Keep reading and we’ll explain further.
We all know that brushing and flossing reduces mouth born bacteria helping to prevent common dental problems like cavities, stained teeth and gum disease like gingivitis – but many of us don’t know why.
How do you end up with excessive bacteria in your mouth? It’s simple really – bad oral care that leads to plaque build up. When you don’t brush, floss and rinse correctly, bacteria will build up in your mouth. That bacteria will then turn into plaque and cling to your teeth, especially around the gumline. The plaque then provides a place for more plaque to easily adhere (and grow) while it’s irritating your gums the whole time. Irritated gums might become red, may bleed, or they might even begin to recede from your teeth. The problem can also turn into an infection and chronic gum inflammation (known as periodontitis) and that really isn’t good.
Periodontitis can lead to tooth loss or jawbone deterioration and leaves the soft tissues of your mouth damaged, so they are open for bacteria to easily get past your bodies defences and enter your bloodstream. That’s not a good thing to have happen as it spreads inflammation around your body and causes your immune system to be put under constant pressure, which weakens it. For example, it’s been found that oral health can be directly linked to bacterial pneumonia (caused by too many bacteria in your mouth and subsequently your throat). The same bacteria, when it gets into your bloodstream could reach your heart and increase your risk of heart disease too.
Bad oral care and plaque build up already cause a lot of problems for your teeth and gums, without even considering the effects it can have on your immune system and the rest of your body. It’s for these reasons that it’s vital that you keep a good oral health care routine, including brushing your teeth at least twice daily, incorporating nightly flossing and considering rinsing your mouth clean after meals. It’s also important to book a professional cleaning appointment with your dentist bi-annually because no matter how robust your at-home care routine is, plaque will still be building up and needs to be professionally removed.
Good oral care might not help you directly combat the flu but it can certainly help boost your immune system to increase your chances of staying healthy all year.
If you do end up getting sick, it’s even more important not to let your brushing routine slip. With the flu it’s important that you stay hydrated by drinking lots, eat healthy foods so your body stays energized and continue to take good care of your teeth. If you need throat or cough drops, choose the sugar-free kind so you don’t hurt your teeth or accelerate bacteria production in your mouth.
Then once the illness has run its course, you should toss your old toothbrush or sterilize it with boiling water. It’s possible to reinfect yourself later by using a contaminated toothbrush which makes taking the extra step a necessity. You should be replacing your toothbrush every few months anyways so it’s a good idea to visit the pharmacy and grab a few extra so you’ll have some on hand if needed. Another thing, and this should go without saying – is don’t share your toothbrush with anyone – not even your family members. Your own bacteria are bad enough that you don’t want to be mingling with someone else’s too.
Diet can also play a big part in oral health care and for your body as a whole. For your teeth, choosing crunchy foods is great (they’ll help clean as you eat), and avoid sugar if possible. The latter is a big part of many beverages or soft drinks, so it’s recommended switching to carbonated water with natural flavouring if needed for a similar feeling to soft drinks. Also remember that a quick rinse or teeth brushing is a good thing to do after you’ve eaten, to remove food particles that can lead to extra bacteria.
Be aware that you shouldn’t brush your teeth immediately after a meal as the enamel on your teeth can be temporarily softened and susceptible to microscopic damage. Wait at least 15 minutes after a meal (or if you’ve drank something citrusy) before you brush. Oral health is all about keeping your mouth clean and bacteria free, meaning your diet is important.
If you have questions about how oral health affects your body or want some tips on how to take care of your teeth better – contact your dentist and book an appointment. It’s easy to do and a very cost-effective alternative to letting things slide and then being faced with a dental bill that’s higher than it really needed to be. Book your dental cleaning as soon as possible and remember to ask your dentist about cleaning tips for a fresher mouth.