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More Than a Flu Shot and Chicken Soup: The Dental Team’s Role in Bulletproofing Against Upper Respiratory Infections, Colds and Flu

It’s “back to school” time and cold and flu season is just around the corner.  Now is the time to prepare!  Our patients may not know it, but we as dental professionals play a vital role in the prevention of seasonal illnesses during the winter months. [1] We all know people who seem healthy until winter comes, but are constantly fighting off the latest “bug” going around during flu season.  Keep in mind, a weak immune system could be a sign of a developing chronic illness, but why do some people have a weaker immune system to begin with?

First, it’s very likely that there is a nutritional problem.  Second, there is most likely a microbial imbalance (dysbiosis) in the oral cavity, which often goes hand in hand with dysbiosis of the digestive tract.  It’s all connected and to be truly healthy, we must address both.

What to do?

As dental professionals, we encourage patients to have a healthy lifestyle with good brushing and flossing, addressing dental and airway concerns, eating a clean diet, exercising regularly, not smoking or vaping, and getting plenty of good sleep.  Aside from our normal year-round advice, what else can we recommend to help our patients boost immunity and prevent seasonal illness?

Build a strong host resistance by improving digestion and nutrition:

  1. Start by taking a quality multivitamin to fill in nutrient gaps. [2,3] Find out how well the body is absorbing nutrients with a simple antioxidant hand scan.  The higher the antioxidant level, the more resistant to disease, period. [4,5]
  2. Check the vitamin D level to ensure it is in an optimal range. Seek medical advice to find out how much to take.  Vitamin D food sources are limited and exposure to sunlight is reduced in the wintertime, so many people are low. [6,7]
  3. “Eat the rainbow” to increase antioxidants [8,9], including leafy greens and brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Think salads and blueberries here.  Add nuts for extra antioxidants and fiber. [10]
  4. Increase fiber intake by adding psyllium fiber supplements to keep things in the gut “moving along.” [11]
  5. Eat fermented food or take a quality probiotic to boost immunity and improve vitamin absorption. [12]

Cold and flu viruses live in biofilm and are transmitted in saliva.  Keep biofilm healthy to protect from illness: [13,14,15,16,17,18]

  1. At the wellness visit, remove all plaque and calculus (ideally before cold and flu season hits). Before dismissal, have the patient swish with an antimicrobial mouth rinse. [19,20]
  3. Use a stainless steel tongue scraper before each brushing. The tongue is often ignored as a home for biofilm, but the microbes live there, too! [21]
  4. After each brushing, take a cup with a little Listerine in it and SWISH your toothbrush in it for 10-20sec. Rinse the toothbrush and let it air dry in an upright position. [22,23]
  5. Use an antimicrobial mouth rinse 1-2x per week or more as directed to keep microbial loads low and gradually shift the biofilm to a healthier state. [24,25,26]
  6. Adjuncts such as oral probiotics [27], perio trays [28], and a waterpik [29] are helpful for microbial control.
  7. Keep oral appliances such as occlusal guards, retainers, sleep apnea appliances including CPAPs scrubbed clean, sanitized, and air dried after each use.
  8. Use xylitol [30,31] mints liberally throughout the day.
  9. Use xylitol nose spray as needed to moisten the nasal cavity.

Don’t forget to wash hands frequently, sanitize cell phones [32], and hydrate!

Still getting sick?

It’s normal to feel “under the weather” from time to time, and the occasional microbial challenge is actually good for our immune system. [33] Avoid full-blown illness by switching to a new toothbrush to avoid any lingering microbes, increasing vitamin C [34], drinking elderberry tea [35], and getting plenty of rest.  Following these tips should help, but if still suffering from more than the occasional scratchy throat or sniffle each season, enlist the help of a medical professional to figure out why.

About the Author

Jennifer Cochran, DDS is a graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Dentistry.  She is an AAOSH fellow and has cared for thousands of patients in the Memphis area at her award-winning dental practice, Evergreen Family Dentistry.


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