Like most people wary of spending days in bed, miserable with the flu, you probably got the flu shot this year. Unfortunately, it’s hit or miss how the flu vaccine will work in any given year, and this year, a strain mutation had a significant impact on overall effectiveness. While the flu vaccine last year was said to be nearly 50% effective, this year’s vaccine may come in at a significantly lower percentage.
Plus, the vaccine doesn’t protect against the common cold, and this year, that leaves people dealing with a lingering cough that could stick around for weeks. As if it’s not enough that you’re sniffling, sneezing, coughing, wheezing, and wishing you could just get a full night of rest, you might be surprised to learn that colds and flus can have an impact on your oral health. Even worse, failing to keep your mouth healthy could make you more susceptible to cold and flu bugs.
What can you to do maintain your oral and overall health during this tough cold and flu season? There are several steps you can take to try to prevent cold and flu, or at least reduce risk factors once you come down with a seasonal bug.
1. Update oral care
If your toothbrush is starting to look a little worse for the wear, it’s time to replace those tired bristles with a new toothbrush. Really, you should do this roughly every three months anyway, but during cold and flu season, spending a few extra bucks to get a new toothbrush couldn’t hurt.
This is especially important if you’ve recently recovered from a cold or flu bug, or if your significant other has been sneezing up a storm. The last thing you want is to introduce (or reintroduce) harmful bacteria or viruses into your system.
2. Practice good oral hygiene
You know you should brush, floss, and rinse with mouthwash after every meal, but this is even more important during cold and flu season. According to a 2014 study conducted by MIT, a sneeze can travel up to 200 feet. That means someone several cubicles away could potentially give you the flu.
Washing your hands during cold and flu season is a given, but just in case you unintentionally breathe in some contaminated air, frequently cleaning your mouth could make the difference between staying healthy and catching a bug.
3. Deal with dry mouth
Age, heredity, illness, medications, tobacco use, and other factors can cause you to experience dry mouth. What does this have to do with oral health, and specifically, with cold and flu bugs? When your mouth produces enough saliva, it not only helps to rinse away food particles and harmful bacteria, but it also helps to kill viruses that might otherwise thrive.
In some cases, you have control over contributing factors (like smoking or your level of hydration), and you can make appropriate changes. If not, you’ll have to find a way to compensate. If staying hydrated by adding more water to your daily diet won’t do the trick, ask your dentist about options like mouthwash designed specifically to deal with dry mouth. Products like Biotene (rinse, gel, and spray) can help to hydrate your mouth, prevent both tooth decay, and fight the bacteria and viruses responsible for cold and flu.
4. Opt for medication in pill form
Nobody likes the taste of cough syrup, and while some cough drops taste like candy, the truth is that these sugary medications can be pretty terrible for teeth. Cough drops, in particular, can be dangerous if you bite down on them, and the fact that you suck on them for an extended period of time prolongs the potential harm to teeth. Then there are thick syrups designed to coat the throat. If you take them before sleeping, they can linger on teeth, as well.
What’s the problem? The sugar feeds bacteria that can attack your enamel and lead to tooth decay. If you can find options for pills that will do the same trick, skip the syrups and cough drops. If not, at least choose products that are sugar-free.
5. Gargle with salt water
If you ever had a sore throat as a kid, your parents probably been forced you to gargle with salt water, which helps to reduce bacteria in your mouth and throat. If you’re trying to avoid cold and flu, preemptive gargling could help. Just dissolve a tablespoon of salt in a glass of water to attack bacteria and keep your mouth clean and healthy.