Flu and dental care have a connection often neglected or completely unknown. In this blog, we will tell you about the mysterious connection between flu and dental care. We are at the height of the season for the flu and colds. At Dentistry for Children, we live by the maxim that a healthy mouth leads to a healthy body. We know that oral care is part of your systemic health care. And this month we blogged about how healthy mouth is even part of your heart-healthy lifestyle.
How the Flu Connects with Your Oral Hygiene and Dental Care
Let’s get a little technical in this part of the blog. Read on and we will also follow with practical recommendations for flu and dental care. In recent years scientists have been investigating deep links between the harmful bacteria that lurk in your mouth and your susceptibility to viruses. This blog explores and explains an often misunderstood connection between the virus and dental care. And, when dental care and oral hygiene is poor, the connection is as bad as it is big.
Flu and Dental Care: Backstory of a Viral and Bacterial Connection
North Carolina State University and the CDC, have been studying how illness-causing viruses and bacteria interact in two ways:
Direct interactions: Firstly, in one type of interaction, the virus weaponizes a bacterial component. Then, it uses it to penetrate and destroy a host cell. Generally speaking, that is how it kills one of your blood cells.
Indirect interactions: On the other hand a viral infection can also cause bacteria to increase and then it attacks your cells.
Connecting the Influenza and Dental Care
According to their research, many common oral bacteria “associated with gum disease also have an immune-suppression effect that increases susceptibility to cold and flu viruses like influenza and rhinovirus.”
Two Most Common Bacteria that Inhabit the Oral Cavity:
Big Number I: Porphyromonas (gingivalis)
This bacteria lives and floats in the mouth. Usually, it drifts around in low numbers. Amazingly, it has several ways to suppress your immune system. To put it technically, “it delays neutrophil recruitment, impairs immune signaling, modulates the effectiveness of leukocytes, and compromises the integrity of epithelial cell layers.”
What Does This Mean?
All of these functions create a shift in the microbial life in your mouth. This bacteria can do a multitude of unpleasant things:
- It can increase the “virulence of other harmful oral bacteria…”
- Likewise, it can prepare the environment for the survival of other harmful bacteria. Bacteria like Streptococcus Gordonii. And P. gingivalis. Therefore, it can cause periodontal disease and many immune system failures. For example, it has been “linked to chronic immune conditions rheumatoid arthritis, and viruses like HIV and herpes.”
Big Number II: Streptococcus pneumoniae
Streptococcus pneumoniae is a bacteria your doctor can find “in the respiratory tract, sinuses, and nasal cavity.” These bacteria will set up housekeeping in the air sacs of the lungs after suppressing the immune system. If they do, you will have a chest infection or pneumonia.
More About the Super-villain Streptococcus
These bacteria seem to behave like destructive and insidious villains. And Streptococcus pneumoniae can actually repair its own DNA when your body’s immune system fights back. “It continues to transfer from one cell to the next non-infected cell. Frequently it can cause associated pneumonia or meningitis…” Likewise, as you might have guessed, this bacteria is also associated with periodontitis and oral plaque.
And here is the kicker: flu virus paves the way for these types of bacteria. “There is ample evidence to support the historical view that the influenza virus alters the lungs in a way that…” permits invasion and induction of disease.
Flu, Dental Care and You: Be Aware of the Secret Connection between Flu and Dental Care
The researchers also have declared that meticulous oral care is often neglected or omitted by victims of colds, Influenza, and pneumonia. “In addition to conventional flu prevention methods such as handwashing, avoiding exposure, and getting a flu shot, additional preventive methods specifically targeting oral health may be beneficial.” In other words, brushing, flossing, even if you are sick, can improve your health during flu season.
Flu Season Advice from Your Pediatric Dentist: Top Three Tips
These are a few basic ways to keep your oral cavity from hatching up extra bacteria during flu season.
1. Maintain regular dental checkups. Don’t forget dental cleanings
2. Brush and clean in between teeth regularly, even if you have the flu. It could be more important than even the researchers know. It certainly makes common sense.
3. Be sure to wash your hands before you brush and especially before you floss. We do not want to have bacteria from your hands invade the mouth.
Flu Season Advice: Three More Very Important Details Often Overlooked
4. Take care to replace toothbrushes every 3-4 months. Likewise, realize you should throw away a toothbrush you used while you had a cold or the flu or virus. (That’s not rocket science once you realize how virulent the virus can be.
5. Always rinse out your toothbrush after you brush. Then air-dry it in an upright position between uses.
6. And never, ever share toothbrushes. (Ew!)
Terrific Take-Aways from Flu and Dental Care
Every single day of the year, you should pay good attention to your oral hygiene. We all know that. But during flu season, with viruses opening the gate-ways to bacteria, your pediatric dentist, Dr. Troy King, reminds you that good dental care is especially critical.
No, tooth-brushing and dental care cannot prevent the flu. (But wouldn’t that be nice?) But, like good hand-washing, healthy dental care will help your body stay in fighting shape during the cold and flu season.