Your immune system has a big job fighting off infections like gum disease, flu, or other respiratory conditions. Keeping your immune system strong is a key aspect of good health.
As a gateway to the body, your mouth allows bacteria and viruses to enter your respiratory system and bloodstream. Because your mouth already has a complex microbiome, the bacteria in your mouth can impact a virus that causes respiratory infections like the flu or COVID-19.
The effects of oral hygiene on your general health are well established, especially as it relates to the immune system. Gum disease can leave you more vulnerable to the viruses that cause the flu – and slower to heal when you are sick.
The Link Between Gum Disease and Flu
Gum disease (also called periodontal disease) is an infection of the gums and bones around the teeth. In its early stage, gingivitis, the gums become swollen and red, and they may bleed.
Left untreated, gingivitis can progress to periodontal disease, causing the gums to pull away from the tooth, leading to loose teeth, missing teeth, and possible bone loss. Bacteria proliferate in the pockets between the tooth and gum, causing a persistent infection and inflammation in the mouth.
These bacteria have an influence on the flu virus. The inflammation caused by periodontal disease can spread throughout your system, decreasing your immunity and making you more vulnerable to the flu and other viral illnesses like COVID-19.
Saliva is also a key component of defense against infection of the mouth and respiratory infections. According to research, the molecules in saliva have been reported to have anti-influenza (flu) virus activity and possible acquired immunity.
Though there are few studies addressing the link between oral health and the prevention or severity of respiratory infections, these limited findings suggest that oral care may influence whether you get a flu infection, how severe it is, and how quickly you recover.
How to Manage Your Oral Hygiene if You Have Flu
When you have the flu or another respiratory infection, your immune system is already working hard to get you better. If it’s also fighting a widespread infection in your mouth, as with gum disease, it’s unable to fight the flu effectively.
With good oral hygiene, you can keep your immune system functioning optimally to fight off the flu, colds, or any other respiratory infections. Here’s how:
Replace Your Toothbrush
Part of good oral hygiene is replacing your toothbrush regularly. Your toothbrush can harbor bacteria in between brushings, which only exacerbates the infection in your gums.
It may seem like an unlikely place to contract the flu, but recent research shows that your toothbrush can harbor bacteria and viruses. These pathogens survive on toothbrushes, even after toothpaste and water rinses, which means you could be reinfecting yourself and putting your immune system to work every time you brush your teeth.
The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends changing your toothbrush every three to four months or sooner if the bristles become frayed. If you come down with the flu or a cold, changing your toothbrush once you’re healed is best to avoid reinfection.
Use Sugar-Free Medications
When you’re feeling under the weather, you may reach for a cough medicine – especially to get some sleep at night. But if you’re not brushing your teeth afterward, you could set yourself up for bigger problems.
Most cough medications and lozenges have a lot of added sugar to make them more palatable, which gives the bacteria in your mouth something to feed on. If you’re already suffering from gum disease, your immune system will fight that infection instead of your respiratory infection.
If possible, use sugar-free cough medication and throat lozenges, and be sure to brush your teeth after taking them.
Get Regular Check-Ups
Gum disease has no cure, but it can be mitigated. Whether you’re in the early stages or have severe gum disease, schedule a dental appointment to evaluate your situation and get you started on treatment.
During this visit, your teeth will get cleaned and your dentist will examine your teeth, gums, and mouth to look for any sign of infection or decay. Then, they’ll plan the next steps to restore your oral health.
Once your mouth is clean, you can keep it that way with regular appointments and good oral hygiene at home. With a healthy mouth, you’ll be in a better position to prevent respiratory infections like the flu. And if you do get sick, having a strong immune system helps you fight the infection and get better faster.
Schedule Your Preventative Dental Appointment
Avoid gum disease and flu complications by booking regular check-ups with Empire Dental Care. Give us a call at 585-671-1650.