I’ve compiled a list of simple but important ways to care for your mouth all year long, but especially when you’re feeling under the weather. Plus, learn a bit more about how your oral health affects the health of your whole body.
The mouth & body connection
Your mouth is the window to your body and health. In fact, many common but serious diseases are connected to problems in the mouth.
Our mouths are full of bacteria. While not all of these bacteria are bad, those that are can do a lot of harm. Things like food, beverages, medication, your age, and genetics — combined with poor oral hygiene — can all cause this bad bacteria to flourish.
Left untreated, this build up of bad oral bacteria can lead to tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease, which in turn…
- Lowers your ability to fight off other infections and inflammation in the body or control blood sugar
- Travels through your body and infects other tissues — including your heart, liver, gut, and lungs.
The result is that gum disease often contributes to major health issues, including:
- Heart disease
- Premature birth
- Respiratory disease
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- … and more
When you’re not feeling well, the last thing you want to do is make it harder for your body to recover. And for those who are more susceptible to the flu, coronavirus, and other illnesses, taking care of your mouth is even more important.
Don’t let your oral health affect your body’s ability to fight off a virus or stay healthy. Make sure you’re taking care of your mouth and working closely with your dentist to ensure total health.
1. Remember to brush and floss
So even though you’re not feeling well, do your best to maintain your routine care:
- Brush 2 times a day for 2 minutes
- Use an electric toothbrush if possible
- Use a fluoride toothpaste
- Floss daily or after every meal
- Talk to me or another one of our dentists about whether or not a mouthwash is right for you
Remember: Wash your hands before brushing your teeth and especially before flossing.
2. Don’t share your toothbrush with anyone
When it comes to your toothbrush, sharing isn’t caring. Everyone has a particular mix of bacteria in their mouth that’s totally unique to them. When you share a toothbrush, these bacteria get passed to the other person and can cause problems.
More than oral bacteria, sharing a toothbrush poses the risk of transmitting the virus you’re fighting. And since many people experience bleeding gums when they brush, you also risk transmitting other diseases your body is fighting.
No matter how close you are with the person, or whether you’re sick or not, avoid sharing your toothbrush — that includes with partners, children, and other family members.
3. Avoid touching your mouth
Piece of food stuck in your teeth? Don’t dive in to rescue it with your finger!
Keeping your hands away from your mouth is very important when you’re sick. Both your hands and mouth carry bacteria that can be passed from place to place or person to person.
Do your best to avoid things like licking food off of your fingers, touching your mouth when you cough or sneeze, or using your fingers to put on chapstick.
4. Stay hydrated and moisturized
Dry mouth is a common side effect of dehydration and also of cold medications like antihistamines, decongestants, and pain relievers. While you might not care about the feeling of a dry mouth, remember that this type of oral environment puts you at greater risk of developing cavities.
When you’re thirsty, water is always the best choice. Sports drinks can be helpful for replenishing electrolytes, but drink these in moderation as they contain a lot of tooth-damaging sugars.
Additionally, as you’re coughing, sneezing, and blowing your nose, it’s common for your lips and mouth area to become chapped. Drinking lots of water will help, but I also recommend keeping some chapstick nearby and moisturizing frequently.
5. Use sugar-free cough drops
Cough drops, throat lozenges, or vitamin gummies can be soothing when you’re suffering from a cold, but sucking or chewing on these candies all day aren’t great for your teeth. I always recommend choosing a sugarless option, whenever possible.
6. Rinse your mouth after vomiting
If your illness is causing you to throw up, avoid brushing your teeth right away. The stomach acids that come in contact with your teeth while vomiting are incredibly destructive. Brushing your teeth immediately after an episode can actually just rub this acid into your teeth and do more harm than good.
Instead, here’s what I recommend:
- Rinse your mouth with water (or a solution of water and 1 tsp of baking soda)
- Spit out the rinse
- Wait 30 minutes before brushing your teeth
7. Try a saltwater rinse
A saltwater rinse is a great oral health tool and can feel extra good when you’re sick. This simple at-home remedy not only helps fight off gingivitis and bad breath, it can even help soothe a sore throat and promote quicker healing in your mouth.
- Add ½ a teaspoon of salt to a cup of warm water
- Swish the rinse around your mouth for ten seconds
- Spit it out completely and avoid swallowing any of the saltwater as it can be dehydrating
- Repeat this 3 times a week
8. Eat a balanced diet
Just remember, an unhealthy diet can exacerbate your illness.
- Avoid too much snacking as it can lead to high levels of acidity in your mouth for long periods of time. If you do have a snack, rinse and brush your teeth afterwards.
- Avoid candy and too many sugary drinks and foods.
- If you’re eating lots of oranges or drinking Emergen-C or other vitamin C drinks, swish and rise with water immediately afterwards to help get rid of the acidity in your mouth.
As always, what’s most important is to eat a balanced diet. Listen to your body and make sure you get the nutrients you need to regain your health.
We’re here to help
I want to help my patients put their best mouth forward — in good times and bad! While we ask that you avoid coming to the dentist when you’re suffering a cold or other illness, we’re always here to answer your questions or serve you in an emergency.
Your health and safety are our top priority. Let us know how we can help.
Dr. Pambianchi is a graduate of Delta State University and the University of Mississippi School of Dentistry. He went on to complete a residency in advanced education in general dentistry from the University of Mississippi Medical Center. His focus is on providing expert care that contributes to the overall wellbeing of his patients.