HCN News & Notes

Massachusetts Dental Society Shares Flu-season Tips

SOUTHBOROUGH — The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported on a call with doctors this week that the U.S. is seeing more cases of the flu than is typical for this time of year, with 30 states already seeing flu activity —including Massachusetts. According to experts, when influenza is off to an early start, it can sometimes mean a more severe flu season.

While the CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most crucial step in protecting against influenza and its potentially serious complications, it’s also important to take everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs. 

“By following some basic precautions, you and your family can stay physically healthy this season, while also maintaining good oral health,” said Massachusetts Dental Society (MDS) President Dr. Janis Moriarty.

Washing hands frequently during any time of the year is important. But the MDS recommends that people also practice good hand hygiene when it comes to brushing and flossing their teeth.

“Germs on your hands can easily be transmitted to your toothbrush and then to your mouth,” Moriarty said. “It’s important to wash your hands before and after brushing your teeth and flossing. Most people don’t realize that viruses and bacteria can live on your toothbrush.”

According to the CDC, the flu virus can live on moist surfaces for 72 hours.

“Since toothbrushes are breeding grounds for bacteria, they should be kept isolated from other brushes, as well as surfaces that touch other brushes, like toothbrush holders and bathroom cups,” Moriarty added. “And, of course, you should never share your toothbrush, but this is especially true when you are sick.”

The chances of re-infecting oneself after an illness are low, unless the immune system is severely compromised.

“You should be replacing your toothbrush about every three months,” Moriarty said. “But if you have any doubts, you may want to consider tossing your brush and getting a new one after you’ve been sick.”

For those who do get sick this cold and flu season, the MDS encourages three simple ways to care for the mouth:

• Avoid cough drops with sugar or ingredients such as fructose or corn syrup. Sugar helps fuel cavity-causing bacteria, so sucking on sugar-filled cough drops can be as bad as sucking on candy.

• Drink plenty of water. When it comes to staying hydrated, water is best. It will help keep saliva flowing and prevent dry mouth. Sports drinks may be helpful for replenishing electrolytes, but moderation is key since many contain high quantities of sugar.

• For a stomach flu that leads to vomiting, consider waiting to brush your teeth. Brushing right away can rub stomach acids all over the teeth’s enamel. Instead, swish with water or mouth rinse and spit, then brush about 30 minutes later.