The fall and winter months bring so much joy as holidays are being celebrated, but for many people, the joy of the season will be dampened by the influenza virus which (in the United States) intensifies in October and hits its peak between December and February. It is possible to contract the flu year-round, but as the weather becomes colder, the virus begins to spread much more rapidly. The flu virus survives longer in cold, dry air, which is why it peaks during the harsh winter months. Being a respiratory virus, the flu infects mainly the nose and throat, but can travel to the lungs. Because the flu and the common cold possess many of the same symptoms, a lot of people think that they are sick with the flu, when in reality, it is simply a cold. According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the main symptoms to watch out for if you are worried about the flu are:
- Rapid decline in health
- Muscle aches
- Dry cough
These are not the only symptoms, and they can differ from person-to-person, but if you do have the flu, you will feel much worse than you would with the common cold. Fortunately, the influenza virus typically resolves on its own within one week if you are not considered high risk. While there is not much you can do apart from managing symptoms and waiting for recovery, there are definitely steps you can take in the meantime to reduce the damage on your oral health. Let’s look at three of the ways you can maintain a healthy mouth if you’ve contracted the flu:
- Stay hydrated. This is one of the most repeated dental tips, and for good reason. Dry mouth can happen for a number of reasons why you’re sick. Nasal congestion is a symptom of the flu, which leads to mouth breathing. Breathing through only your mouth is a quick way to dry out your saliva, and it will happen most often while you’re sleeping and unaware. Another reason is the medication that is commonly taken while you’re sick produces a side-effect of dry mouth. When your body is sick, chances are high that you’re dehydrated and in need of fluids. Making sure you’re drinking enough water is an easy way to combat dry mouth, which greatly increases your risk for cavities. Bacteria thrives when saliva is lacking, so extra hydration is always a good idea.
- Go sugar-free. Sports drinks, tea with honey, sweet cough drops. There are many ways that sugar can sneak in when you’re sick. While it’s okay to have something sweet every so often when you’re not feeling well, it’s easy to get into the habit of reaching for a sugary drink or cough drop when you don’t have the appetite for real food. If you’ve had your fill of water and you’re looking for electrolytes, unsweetened coconut water is a great alternative to energy drinks. The natural sugar from the coconut will not hurt your teeth, and it will give you the boost of energy you’re looking for. Always be cautious when it comes to cough drops, as most options on the shelf are loaded with sugar and could easily mimic candy. Because these drops are often sucked on all throughout the day to combat the dry cough of the flu, it’s important to make sure that you’re getting the sugar-free version. They will not cause cavities, and you can feel good about keeping one in your mouth during the day as it will stimulate saliva production.
- Don’t stop cleaning your teeth. Apart from the basics of practicing good hygiene in general for the sake of others when you’re sick (covering your mouth when you cough/sneeze and never sharing your toothbrush), your own oral health regimen can easily be compromised when you have the flu. Getting out of bed to do anything at all can feel like a monumental task, and the inevitable lack of motivation to brush and floss is understandable. Regardless, it’s crucial to prioritize taking care of your teeth when you’re sick. Your oral health already suffers when you have the flu, from the dehydration to the lack of nutrition, so when you are also neglecting to brush and floss, the damage will be that much greater. Getting up to clean your teeth and gums for just a few minutes a day while you’re sick will lessen your risk of developing cavities and inflammation, and you will be happy you took the time once you are fully recovered.
According to the CDC, between 5-20 percent of the population in the United States gets the influenza virus each year. If you find yourself in this group, being equipped with the right information regarding your oral health can save you from cavities down the road. Remembering the basics of staying hydrated, going sugar-free, and committing to your dental regimen will carry you through your recovery from the flu until you’re feeling back to normal. Additionally, it’s always a good idea to see your dentist when you’re feeling well, so that your teeth and gums are already in good shape should you come down with sickness in the future. Give our office a call today, and we’ll ensure that your mouth is flu-season ready.