As we enter into the winter months, we know health is a topic on everyone’s mind right now. That’s why we’ve gathered a few simple but helpful tips to help you take care of your oral health — and yourself — when you’re feeling under the weather.
1. Keep up on your oral hygiene routine
When you’re sick, it’s understandable to want to avoid doing much of anything besides hitting play on your next Netflix binge. But before you get sucked into the next Stranger Things, don’t put off your brushing and flossing routine.
Not only will it leave you feeling more refreshed, but maintaining a good oral hygiene routine is a key part to your dental health.
A good oral hygiene routine consists of:
- Brushing your teeth with a fluoride toothpaste at least twice per day
- Flossing at least once a day — making sure to wash your hands before and after, especially when you’re sick
- Consider using a mouthwash at least once a day — ask Dr. Catt which mouthwash is right for you and your teeth
- Limiting your intake of sugary and acidic foods
2. Don’t share your toothbrush with anyone
Did you know a cold virus can live on a surface for up to 24 hours, and flu virus for up to 48 hours? That’s why it’s important to keep high-touch surfaces clean while you’re sick to avoid passing it on to a partner, child, family member, or roommate.
This also applies to your toothbrush. Keep your toothbrush separated from others and make sure not to share your toothbrush. This is an important and easy thing to do when you’re sick to keep those close to you healthy.
Not only is your toothbrush an easy way to transmit a virus when you’re sick, it’s also potentially bad for the person who shares it. That’s because everyone has a different bacterial makeup to their mouth — billions of bacteria and an average of 30-40 different bacterial strains! When you share a toothbrush with another person, you risk passing along your bacteria to them, potentially introducing something new for their immune system to fight off.
3. Stay hydrated
When you get sick, it’s normal for the body to become dehydrated. This happens for many reasons — maybe you’re too nauseous to drink anything, or lose fluids after throwing up. Or maybe you have a fever, which pulls moisture out of the body as it sweats. Whatever the cause, it becomes even more important to stay hydrated when you’re sick — not only to keep the body functioning properly, but to avoid dry mouth.
Dry mouth is a condition triggered by a decrease in your mouth’s saliva production. Dry mouth can be uncomfortable, and it also promotes cavity development. That’s because saliva is the primary way the body washes away food and bacteria in your mouth. The longer saliva isn’t there to wash bacteria away, the longer that bacteria sits on your teeth, potentially leading to cavities.
Common causes of dry mouth include:
- Nasal decongestants
- Pain relievers
As you’re trying to stay hydrated, we recommend reaching for water instead of a sports drink or other beverage. Sports drinks contain a high amount of sugar and acid, both of which can damage your teeth.
4. Choose sugar-free cough drops
When you’re sick, cough drops can be a great, soothing way to feel a little bit better. But they can also be damaging to your teeth. They might seem small, but most cough drops contain a high amount of sugar, and the longer they stay in your mouth, the greater chance they have of inviting cavities.
As you’re choosing cough drops at the store, keep an eye out for a sugar-free option. If it isn’t labeled “sugar-free,” take a look at the ingredients list and avoid cough drops containing corn syrup or fructose.
5. Rinse your mouth out after vomiting
If your sickness is causing you to throw up, what you do afterwards can have a big effect on your teeth. While it might seem tempting to brush your teeth immediately after vomiting, we don’t recommend it. That’s because throwing up leaves stomach acid in your mouth, and when you brush immediately after, you are actually rubbing that highly destructive acid into your teeth.
Instead, rinse your mouth out with water, swishing it around like you would mouthwash. This will help wash away some of the acid and prevent it from sitting on your teeth. Alternatively, you could try rinsing with a solution of water and 1 teaspoon of baking soda to help neutralize and wash the acid away.
We recommend waiting 30 minutes after vomiting before brushing your teeth.
6. Consider a trying a salt water rinse
You’re probably familiar with a salt water rinse as a home remedy for soothing a sore throat, but did you know it can also promote healing and help reduce the amount of bacteria in your mouth? It does this by temporarily increasing the pH level in your mouth, creating a harder environment for oral bacteria to thrive in. This helps the immune system fight off gingivitis and other bacterial infections, and reduces inflammation.
To create a saltwater rinse:
- Mix a ½ teaspoon of salt into a cup of warm water
- Gargle the mixture for a few seconds
- Swish the mixture around your mouth for 10 seconds
- Spit out the saltwater rinse completely — swallowing it may dehydrate you
- Repeat this rinse 3-4 times a week until you are feeling better
Dr. Catt is here for you
If you’re feeling sick and have concerns about your dental health, Dr. Catt can help! Although we ask that you don’t come into the office if you are experiencing any symptoms of illness, our Rogue Valley dentist team is always here to answer questions.