5 tips for a healthy mouth during cold, flu season

Posted March 7
Updated March 21

This story was written for our sponsor, North Carolina Dental Society.

Oral hygiene is simple -- that is, until you suddenly can't breathe through your nose anymore.

If you're coughing, sneezing or vomiting often, brushing your teeth is the last thing you have energy for. However, it's more important than ever to take care of your teeth during an illness, particularly a cold or flu.

To keep your mouth healthy in addition to taking regular cold and flu precautions, here are five ways to care for your mouth during an illness:

1. Stay Hydrated

Difference between the flu and cold Flu Watch Colds and the flu tend to use a lot of our daily fluid intake, which is one reason hydration is important when you're sick. With all the coughing and nose blowing, staying hydrated allows congestion to ease and your body to heal itself.

When you drink plenty of water while sick, you'll maintain saliva flow, which helps keep tooth decay in check.

You might be tempted to indulge in soda, sports drinks or other acidic beverages but, more often than not, plain water is the best thing for you.

2. Watch Your Sugar Intake

"It's all too easy to comfort yourself with desserts and sweets, but this won’t help you heal, and it hurts your oral health," said Dr. Scott Davenport, a dentist in Charlotte.

Davenport added that even some cough syrups and cough drops contain sugar.

"The fact that most cough syrups and cough drops are packed with sugar can make it even more difficult to avoid sweets when you’re sick," Davenport said.

To avoid this issue while still comforting your throat and keeping your coughing under control, use sugar-free cough drops and tablet-form cough medicine.

The last thing you want on top of a bad cold is to develop or worsen cavities that come from too much sugar and not enough brushing.

3. Continue Your Oral Hygiene Routine

Brushing your teeth is one of your best defenses against dental problems, especially when you're sick. Even when you don't feel like it, continue to brush and floss.

Some studies have shown careful oral hygiene throughout the cold and flu season may even prevent some respiratory illnesses, such as pneumonia, according to a study by Dr. Samit Joshi of Yale University.

4. Gargle With a Mouth Rinse

Colds and the flu leave your mouth feeling anything but fresh, with countless bacteria in the wake of mucus and vomit.

The best way to combat bad breath (and the germs that come with it) is by gargling with a diluted solution of hydrogen peroxide.

Store-brand mouthwash is also an option, but make sure it's approved by the American Dental Association.

5. Check in With Your Dentist

Sinus infections can cause you tooth pain, and having a persistent dry mouth during a cold increases your chances of cavities and gum irritation.

Davenport also suggested you change your toothbrush once you start feeling better.

"Your old one probably harbors bacteria from your illness," Davenport said. "As a rule of thumb, begin using a new toothbrush every three to four months or as soon as your bristles begin to fray."

This story was written for our sponsor, North Carolina Dental Society.

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  • Doug Bogard Mar 21, 8:00 a.m.
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    The sinus infection that comes with this years flu is awesome. If you get sick or even feel sick go to the doctor. You will need antibiotics to defeat it. I am on my 11th day dealing with this thing. I have not worked in 7 days. If I had gone to the doctor last Monday instead of yesterday, I would be working this week.