Flu season is upon us again, and it seems like everyone is looking for the magic bullet to give their immune system that competitive edge over the irritating virus. Part of the reason that the flu is so contagious is that it is spread primarily through aerosolized droplets of moisture, which can either enter directly or be transferred through physical contact to the nose, mouth and eyes. Vaccination, frequent hand-washing, hydration and getting enough sleep are the most commonly-recommended defenses against the flu, but there's another tactic most people don't think about: oral health.
Remind your patients that the oral cavity is one of the first defenses against pathogens entering the body. Saliva and immune cells work together to neutralize bacteria and viruses before they enter the body any further. However, poor oral health can open the door to microbes that may otherwise be stopped by these defenses. Gum tissue compromised by gingivitis and plaque lowers the protective ability of the mouth's defenses. Sensitized mucous membranes in general are less guarded against the flu. Inflammation makes small blood vessels "leaky" to release white blood cells out into the body to fight invaders, and by the same token pathogens can access chronically inflamed areas more easily.
So what if you catch the flu anyway? Well, just as oral health can influence catching the flu, flu symptoms can have adverse implications for oral health. Conditions that cause dry mouth can damage the teeth and lower immunity. The mouth needs moisture to defend against pathogens and slow the accumulation of biofilms. It is understood that dry mouth predisposes one to acid erosion and caries, but the erosive effects of vomiting are more pronounced. After one is finished vomiting, the teeth can be protected by swishing with water and after 30 minutes, brushing the teeth.
Talk to your patients and remind your staff that flu season is a great time to revisit the basics of oral health and taking preventative care of the body.
How the Flu and Oral Health Are Related - Northwestern Dental Group. (2016, September 22). Retrieved October 10, 2016, from http://nwdgimplants.com/flu-oral-health/
Whitney, C., MD. (2014, January). Enough talk about the oral-systemic link: It's time to bridge the gap between dentistry and medicine. Retrieved October 10, 2016, from http://www.dentistryiq.com/articles/2014/01/enough-talk-about-the-oral-systemic-link-its-time-to-bridge-the-gap-between-dentistry-and-medicine.html
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