Protect Your Teeth; Learn How Below
A few days ago, you woke up with a slight tickle in your throat. Hours later, that tickle progressed into a raging cough accompanied by sniffles, watery eyes, and a migraine. Throughout the rest of the week, your symptoms worsened and expanded to include a fever, nausea, and muscle aches.
Sounds like you finally caught the flu that already affected the rest of your coworkers and neighbors.
While you call in a sick day and wrap yourself in blankets, don’t forget that your illness affects more than your nose or chest. As you treat your symptoms with tried-and-true home remedies, you just might damage your pearly whites, too.
How You Damage Your Teeth
Cold and flu symptoms don’t always hurt your teeth directly. Rather, the way you treat your body during your illness has a negative impact on your oral health. Some of the most common solutions for alleviating symptoms increase your likelihood for cavities and gum inflammation. The following, in particular, wreak havoc on your teeth.
1. You Drink Acidic Beverages
Honey lemon tea (or honey lemon water) remains one of the top suggestions for soothing a sore throat. The lemon juice thins the mucus while the honey coats the throat tissue.
But lemon juice has a pH level of 2.0, making it acidic. And though honey isn’t as acidic as lemon, it still measures at a 3.9 pH value. If left on your teeth for too long, these acids start to dissolve your enamel, the hard outer layer of your teeth.
2. You Breathe Through Your Mouth
When you have a cold or flu, you may struggle to breathe through your nose. The mucus blocks your nasal passages and sinuses, forcing you to breathe through your mouth.
But with each breath you take, the air dries out your mouth, resulting in a decreased saliva production. Saliva plays a key role in maintaining your mouth’s pH levels, and it neutralizes the bacteria in your mouth. When you breathe through your mouth, you give plaque a chance to build up and damage your teeth.
3. You Suck on Lozenges and Cough Drops
Cough drops contain a mix of anesthetics (to alleviate pain), demulcents (to soothe your throat), and antiseptics (to kill bacteria). Together, these ingredients keep your coughing fits under control.
But take a quick look at the label. Your favorite lozenges may also contain small amounts of sugar to improve the flavor. Since cough drops take a while to dissolve, they allow the sugar to stay on your teeth for a long time. And the longer sugar stays on your teeth, the more you feed the bacteria that damage your enamel.
4. You Swallow Cold Medicine at Night
No matter whether you have a cold or the flu, your symptoms likely worsen at night. When you lie down, the mucus pools back in your sinuses. And during sleep, your body produces different hormones that regulate inflammatory cytokines, resulting in greater amounts of inflammation and more distinct cold symptoms.
To counter these effects, you may swallow a spoonful or two of cold medicine right before you go to bed.
But as with cough drops, some syrupy medicines contain sugars to improve the flavor. The sugars coat your teeth, and the bacteria in your mouth eat the sugar and excrete acids that dissolve your enamel. And since your mouth produces less saliva at night to rinse away bacteria, you have fewer defenses in place to protect your teeth.
5. You Vomit Your Latest Meals
During a particularly bad illness, you may vomit one, two, or even several of your latest meals. Though vomiting helps your body eliminate toxins and bacteria quickly, stomach acid has pH level of about 2.0.
While your stomach and intestines can handle the acidity, your mouth and teeth can’t. The more often you throw up, the more you erode your tooth enamel.
Ways to Protect Your Teeth
You already feel tired and achy from your illness, so taking extra care of your teeth may seem like too much effort. Fortunately, the following steps can keep your teeth in great shape without expending more energy than necessary:
1. Don’t Forget to Brush
While peppermint (or other toothpaste flavors) might make you feel queasy, your teeth will benefit from regular cleaning. Brush and floss at least 30 minutes after eating, taking any cold medicine, or vomiting.
2. Drink Plenty of Water
Fluids play a key role in your recovery, but water, in particular, keeps your teeth (and the rest of your body) in better shape. Water has a pH level of 7, which neutralizes the acids from your medicine or your tea. Water also rinses away harmful bacteria, protecting your mouth against plaque buildup.
3. Seek Professional Help
Although many cold and flu symptoms disappear after a few days, don’t hesitate to seek medical care when you need it. If your symptoms worsen, or if they last longer than five days, schedule an appointment with your doctor to receive proper treatment.
And once you’ve recovered from your cold, don’t forget to call the dentist, too. Your teeth could likely use a thorough cleaning after your illness.
Get well soon!