Caring for your flu or cold could harm your teeth

By Dr. Elizabeth Fleming
December 31, 2013
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It’s a good time to talk about how the common cold can affect your oral health.  Here are 6 ways that the common cold and flu can hurt your teeth:

1 – We tend to drink acidic beverages when we’re sick.

 Water doesn’t sound very good when you’re sick.  Many people drink lots of orange juice and sodas (such as ginger ale) when they’re sick.

You can lessen the effect of acidic drinks on your teeth by drinking them quickly and then either drinking or rinsing your mouth out with water when you’re done.

2 – When you’re sick, you really don’t feel like brushing or flossing.

When you’re sick, the first thing on your mind is getting better, not brushing and flossing.  However, by taking a couple of minutes each day to take care of your teeth, you can prevent the build-up of tartar, which is a type of hard mineralized plaque that forms on your teeth if you don’t remove plaque daily.

3 – Inflammation of the sinuses can make your teeth and gums hurt.

If you have got a cold and you are congested, your sinuses might not feel very good!  The maxillary sinus is located right above your upper back teeth and can make them hurt.

There have also been reports of people’s gums hurting when they’re sick.  This probably occurs because many people breathe through their mouths when they’re sick because they have a stuffy nose.  This dries out the gums and irritates them.  Another possible explanation is that your immune system is so busy fighting your cold that it’s harder for it to fight the bacteria in your mouth, thus causing your gums to get irritated.

4 – When you’re sick, your mouth gets dry.

As I mentioned above, your mouth gets dry because you breathe through it more than usual when your nose is stuffy.  Coughing can also dry out the mouth.  A dry mouth allows sugar to hang around in your mouth and contributes to tooth decay.

Try to stay hydrated when you are sick as much as possible!  When possible, reach for water instead of juices or soda pop.

5 – Cold medicine isn’t very friendly to your teeth.

Cough syrups such as Dayquil syrup can stick to your teeth and cause cavities.

Many cold medicines, such as Alka-Seltzer, are acidic.  Acidic drinks can dissolve the calcium that makes up the enamel of your teeth.

Cough drops are another culprit, but they don’t have to be.  Just use sugar free cough drops and you’ll be fine.  Both Hall’s and Ricola make great tasting sugar free cough drops that are much better for your teeth than regular cough drops, which contain a significant amount of sugar.

Rather than taking cough syrup, try substituting something in pill form.  For example, DayQuil is available in a gelcap form that doesn’t contain all of the sugar that the syrup does.  If you must have Alka-Seltzer, you might want to rinse out your mouth or drink water afterward to remove the acid off from your teeth.

6 – Vomit is acidic and dissolves your teeth.

Hopefully you don’t have to toss your cookies this cold and flu season.  The stomach is the most acidic place in your body and when it’s contents come back up, they will dissolve your teeth.

After vomiting, the best thing to do for your teeth is to rinse out with water.  You might be tempted to brush your teeth with toothpaste to get the acidic taste out of your mouth, but brushing can damage the enamel because it’s already been weakened by the exposure to your stomach acid.

Conclusion

Having a cold can hurt your teeth.  Remember to continue your regular oral hygiene routine even when you don’t feel well.  Try to avoid cold and flu medicine that are syrups or contain lots of sugar.  Pills and sugar-free cough drops are excellent alternatives.  If you do happen to throw up, remember to rinse your mouth afterward with water to wash away the acid.

If you have any other suggestions or any questions, feel free to add them in the comments section below.  Thanks for reading!

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