We know that many germs live in warm, moist environments like our mouth, and that’s why we cover our mouths when we sneeze or cough. When you’re down with the cold or flu, taking care of your body should be your top priority, and that begins with your mouth.
Follow these four easy ways to care for your dental health during times of illness:
1. The first rule of thumb is to never share your toothbrush. Flu viruses can live on moist surfaces for 72 hours, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Allow your toothbrush to completely dry before storing or re-using, so germs don’t survive. Should you throw your toothbrush away after being sick? Studies show that it doesn’t make much difference, since you are unlikely to re-infect yourself, but we usually recommend starting with a fresh toothbrush once you are well. In general, it’s a good idea to change your toothbrush every three to four months.
2. Choose sugar-free cough drops. Cough drops made with sugar or corn syrup are just as damaging to teeth as sucking on candy. The longer that sugar sits on our teeth, the more acid that plaque bacteria produces, which leads to erosion of our teeth. In other words, the frequency of sugar in our mouth is directly related to how much cavity-causing bacteria thrive.
3. Drink your fluids to avoid dry mouth. It’s important to stay hydrated to avoid dehydration when you are sick. The safest thing to drink is water — it helps your body flush out toxins and regulate your body temperature. It also replenishes the fluids lost through runny noses, fever sweats and vomiting. Drinks such as Gatorade or Pedialyte can be helpful to replace electrolytes, however they should be used in moderation and water should follow these drinks, to rinse away the concentrated sugar bathing the teeth. Other good sugar-free options that are also warm and soothing include caffeine-free tea and clear soup broths.
4. Swish and spit after vomiting. It’s no fun to have the flu, especially when it involves vomiting. Because our stomach acids come in contact with our teeth when we vomit, repeated exposure to stomach acid can cause erosion of our enamel. It may seem that brushing your teeth should be the first thing to do after vomiting. In actuality, this hurts our teeth since we are spreading the acid all around, and the bristles could even scrub off a microscopic layer of enamel that is softened by the acid. What should you do instead? Swish and spit with water or a diluted fluoride mouth rinse. It is safe to brush about 30 minutes to an hour after rinsing.
Hopefully these tips help you through this cold and flu season! Remember to wash your hands frequently, get plenty of sleep and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables to give your body a good fighting chance against the cold and flu.
Stephanie Su is dentist at Redmond Kids’ Dentistry.