While the world is reeling from the effects of COVID-19, it is also prudent to remember that the winter season in Australia is about to start, and thereby the flu season. While the flu season typically peaks in August, the winter months beginning with April herald a rise in influenza. It is well-known that the best preventive measures against the virus is to get vaccinated. However, there has been some discussion on the links between the immune system and oral hygiene that suggest practiced oral care could help during the flu season.
In 2019, Australia experienced its worst flu season on record, with more than 310,000 people recorded with flu symptoms. This figure is seven times greater than Australia’s previous 18-year average. World Health Organisation (WHO) influenza researcher, Ian Barr says that such aggressive seasons were generally a “one-in-every-10-year occurrence”, but early flu outbreaks had seen Australia go through two in just three years.
Dr. Steven Lin, an Australian-based accredited dentist and writer of “The Dental Diet,” says that oral care for the mouth and teeth could potentially help individuals during flu season. This is because the body uses hormones and signalling to direct stem cells’ actions – from bone-forming or cell management – immune system strength and bone health, have common signals.
He elaborates that, Vitamin D which is important for bone health, is also important to direct immune cell function. He recommends that individuals check their vitamin D levels seasonally – lower rates of Vitamin D or tooth decay could point to susceptibility to immunological infections.
In what ways can you practice oral care?
Maintaining good oral health can free you from the possible clutch of the flu virus. Ensure you brush twice a day and floss regularly to avoid plaque build-up because it contains bacteria that can negatively impact your oral health.
If you are exposed to the flu virus (which can happen by simply touching any surface which is infected with the virus) and then touch your mouth, you will increase your chances of developing the flu. As with the COVID-19 prevention tactic, try to wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds after touching any shared public surface. If not, use a hand sanitiser.
If you develop a cold or the flu, try these simple steps to minimize the length & severity of your illness:
Gargle frequently with salt water or mouthwash
Gargling with salt water or mouthwash approved for use on sore throats can help to flush bacteria or viruses and speed your recovery.
Keep your saliva flowing
Drinking lots of water during an infection keeps your mouth hydrated and helps you fight the virus with a moist mouth. A dry mouth which is common with a cold or flu is bad for your teeth because you need a steady flow of saliva to fend off plaque.
Keep your toothbrush in a clean container
After you brush your teeth, rinse your toothbrush under hot water to ensure it does not contain any food particles or residue. Toothbrushes are a fertile breeding ground for many strains of viruses and bacteria, including the influenza virus. If you store your toothbrush in a container with disinfectant or mouthwash, be sure to use a new solution each day.
Choose sugar-free medication
Many cough syrups are packed with sugar to sweeten the dose. Even paired with medication, this sugar can cause tooth decay and harm your gums. Use medicine that is sweetened with sugar substitutes. If you cannot find sugar-free alternatives, make sure to brush or rinse afterwards. If your medicine is acidic, wait at least half an hour before brushing to let your enamel harden.
Replace your toothbrush!
Replace your toothbrush once you recover from the flu. This is because even if you have recovered from the flu virus, it can still be living in your toothbrush and thereby cause a re-infection. As soon as you have recovered from the flu, purchase a new toothbrush.
These are some of the things you can practice during the winters season to reduce the impact of the flu virus on your health.