How to take care of your teeth when you're ill

By Bupa Dental

Whether it's the flu or a stomach bug, our oral health can sometimes suffer when we're not well. Even the common cold can have more of an effect on your teeth than you might expect. So as we face the colder months of the year, it's important that you understand how illness can affect us - particularly those who may be at a higher risk for complications, such as older loved ones.

There are several ways your teeth and bodily health interact. Certain symptoms will have different effects and require different responses.


Vomiting can encourage enamel decay. Depending on the infection you've contracted, you may find yourself unable to keep your food down. Vomiting is never pleasant, but it's sometimes necessary for your body to expel harmful bacteria or substances. But the fluids in your stomach are extremely acidic. When pushed into the mouth, these gastric acids can be particularly damaging to the enamel on your teeth. This enamel is the defensive layer of your teeth and, once worn down; your teeth may be more prone to decay.

What to do: Don't brush your teeth right away. Because of the acid sitting on your teeth, brushing has the potential to exacerbate damage - rubbing the acid into the teeth instead of brushing it away. Instead, rinse your mouth thoroughly with an alkaline solution of water and baking soda to neutralise and wash away the acid before brushing.

Spreading bacteria

Our toothbrushes can accumulate bacteria, saliva and blood. So if the cause of your symptoms is infectious, it can be even more crucial to isolate your toothbrush and lower the risk of contaminating other brushes. Continue brushing and flossing even when you're ill (except for when you've just vomited). Your teeth and gums still need cleaning, even if it means needing to replace your toothbrush later.

What to do: If you're sick, keep your toothbrush separate from others in your household to prevent the spread of illness. And never share toothbrushes. Once you've recovered, throw away your toothbrush and purchase a new, clean brush.


Staying hydrated is vital to maintaining both oral and general health. This can be especially important when you're ill. For example, your body may be more likely to lose fluids while fighting an infection, which means you could be at a much greater risk of dehydration or dry mouth. A lack of saliva in your mouth can put you at an increased risk of dental decay and gingivitis. This is because saliva would normally wash away food particles and acids, helping to regulate the bacteria in your mouth. Plus, certain cold and flu medications, like antihistamines and decongestants, can cause dry mouth.

What to do: Drink plenty of water and, if needed, suck on sugar-free lozenges to encourage saliva production. But try to avoid drinks or lozenges that are full of sugar - all the extra sugar can heighten your risk of tooth decay!

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