Oral Care When You Are Sick

December 4, 2023, Kyle Isaacs

The seasons have changed, the colder weather has arrived, and more people are staying indoors. More gatherings happen during the holidays, so people are more likely to get sick. It is no fun to be sick, and when we feel lousy, the last thing we probably think about is taking care of our teeth and gums. But when you are sick, taking care of your good oral health is more important than you might think.

Blond toddler boy, sleeping on the couch in living room, lying dHere are some ways that illness affects your oral health:

  1. It can be harder to remember to brush and care for our teeth properly when we don’t feel well, which increases our oral bacteria. Also, our immune system is weakened when we are ill, making it harder to fight infections and increasing inflammation.
  2. Stuffy noses lead to mouth breathing which dries out your mouth. Decongestant medicines to relieve stuffy noses also cause dry mouth. A dry mouth leads to more inflammation and cavities.
  3. Cough drops, children’s liquid cold medicines, and many drinks we reach for when sick contain sugar. The longer sugar sits in your mouth, the more the cavity-causing bacteria thrive. (see the chart below for all the names of sugar that might be in an ingredient list).
  4. Many liquid medicines and fizzy drinks contain acid. Vomit is also highly acidic. Acidic liquids can wear down tooth enamel, weakening it and making way for cavities.
  5. Sinus infections and pressure can feel like tooth pain in some people. If the pain is still there when feeling better, it would be a good idea to contact your dental provider to check out the pain.
  6. Being sick can increase the risk of oral thrush, especially in babies and toddlers. There can be white and red patches in the mouth, on the tongue, and in the back of the throat. It can look like cottage cheese, and there can be cracking and redness at the corners of the mouth. If you are not sure, call your pediatrician.

UGH…doesn’t sound great, does it? Don’t worry. There are many easy things you can do to take care of your mouth when you are sick.Mom and baby brush their teeth together in the bathroom

  1. Try to cut down on sugar when you are sick. Offer your child water or unsweetened drinks. Look for cough drops and medicines that are sugar-free or contain xylitol. Xylitol is an excellent natural sugar substitute that does not promote cavities. Instead, it starves the bacteria that cause cavities, helping to prevent them. If you want to learn more about xylitol, you can read my blog from December 2022: https://pollywogfamily.org/blog/2022/12/05/all-about-xylitol/.
  2. Reduce acids in your mouth by avoiding fizzy drinks while sick. If you or your child are taking liquid medicines or vomiting, protect your mouth by rinsing with water or mixing one teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water. Do not swallow! You can also put ½-1 teaspoon of xylitol in water and swish with that. Know that a teaspoon of xylitol is 4 grams, and if you swallow it, that is fine, but you only want 6-10 grams daily. Also, wait at least 30 minutes after vomiting to brush your teeth as it can soften the tooth surface, and when you brush, you can remove some of your teeth’s protective layers.
  3. Once you are feeling better, consider replacing your toothbrush. The American Dental Association does not specifically say you should replace your toothbrush after an illness but does acknowledge that bacteria lives on the bristles and should be replaced regularly. Studies show that each time you brush your teeth, you transfer bacteria to and from your mouth and brush.