Dental Hygiene and the Flu have an almost secret connection we often ignore. And this is the time of year when flu, viruses, and colds begin to take their toll on the health of our families.
We Tell This Story Almost Every Year
Dental hygiene and the flu season are inextricably intertwined. (This blog will show you how.) And almost yearly, we are compelled to remind families about the mysterious connection between the flu and dental care.
Now we leave our Thanksgiving holiday behind and proceed into an accelerated schedule of holiday plans. Families are shopping, decorating, visiting relatives, and making plans for traditional fun with Christmas, Chanukah, and Kwanzaa coming soon.
Thus we are spinning into the height of the season for flu and colds even as we rush into a frenzy of winter activities. We do not want you to miss any of the wonders of the season.
However, we want to warn you about the often-missed connection between the misery of the flu and poor dental hygiene.
Dental Hygiene and the Flu
At Dentistry for Children, we continue to 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 we have previously blogged about how a healthy mouth is even part of your heart-healthy lifestyle.
Flu, Colds, Viruses, and Pneumonia: The Oral Hygiene Connection
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 flu and dental care. And, when dental care and oral hygiene is poor, the connection is as bad as it is big.
Flu and Dental Hygiene: 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: On the one hand, in one type of interaction, the virus weaponizes a bacterial component.
- Then, the virus uses it to penetrate and destroy a host cell. In brief, that is how a simple cold virus can kill one of your blood cells.
- Indirect interactions: On the other hand, a viral infection can also cause bacteria to multiply. Then it is the bacteria that attacks your cells.
Connecting the Flu and Your Personal Dental Hygiene
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.”
So, let’s check out the two most common bacteria that inhabit the oral cavity:
Big Number I: Porphyromonas gingivalis. (P. gingivitis) 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. And that is not something you want when you are already suffering from the flu.
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 these functions create a shift in the microbial life in your mouth. The bacteria can do a multitude of yucky things:
- It can increase the “virulence of other harmful oral bacteria…”
- Likewise, it can prepare the environment for the survival of other harmful bacteria, like StreptococcusAnd P. gingivalis. (“Hello, Strep Throat!”)
- Therefore, it can cause periodontal disease and many immune system failures. For example, doctors have linked this bacteria to chronic immune conditions. They include “rheumatoid arthritis and viruses like HIV and herpes.”
Big Number II: Streptococcus pneumoniae (S. 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 a destructive and insidious villain.
And Streptococcus pneumoniae can 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…” Surprisingly, this bacteria is also associated with periodontitis and oral plaque. So we see a blatant connection between this bacteria and an unhealthy mouthful of poor dental hygiene.
Here is the Kicker: The Ordinary Flu Virus Paves the Way for The Above Types of Bacteria.
“There is ample evidence to support the historical view that influenza virus alters the lungs in a way that predisposes to adherence, invasion, and induction of disease by pneumococcus.”
Flu, Dental Hygiene 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, flu, 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.”
A New Appreciation for a Healthy Mouth and Good Oral Hygiene
To put it simply, brushing and flossing, even if you are sick, can improve your health during flu season.
A Mini-Story from Flu Seasons Past
This writer specifically remembers seeing her husband take our two cups to our child’s room when he had a bad case of flu. One was full of water, one was empty, for spitting. He also held a brand new Batman toothbrush and a tiny tube of fluoride toothpaste.
At the time we did not realize this simple dental hygiene procedure was very important healthwise. We just knew our son might feel better with Batman and a fresh mouth.
Now we realize such attention is medically important when someone, child, or adult, has a cold, virus, or flu.
Flu Season Advice from Your Pediatric Dentist: Top Three Tips
We have published the tips below in previous blogs, but due to the season, they are worth reviewing. Thus, here “are a few basic ways to keep your oral cavity from hatching up extra bacteria during flu season.”
- Maintain regular dental checkups. Don’t forget dental cleanings
- 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.
- Be sure to wash your hands before you brush and especially before you floss. We do not want to have bacteria from hands invade the mouth.
Flu Season Advice: Three More Very Important Dental Hygiene Details
- Take care to replace toothbrushes every 3-4 months. Likewise, do you know you should throw away a toothbrush you used while you had a cold flu, or virus? (That’s not rocket science once you realize how virulent a virus can be.)
- Always rinse out your toothbrush after you brush. Then air-dry it in an upright position between uses.
- And never, ever share toothbrushes. (Ew!)
Terrific Take-Aways from Flu Season and Winter-time Dental Hygiene
During flu season, with viruses opening the gateways to bacteria, your pediatric dentist, Dr. Troy King, brings you an annual reminder that good dental hygiene is especially critical.
No, tooth-brushing and dental hygiene cannot prevent the flu. (But wouldn’t that be nice?) However, like good hand-washing, healthy dental hygiene will help your body stay in fighting shape during the cold and flu season.