Why Oral Hygiene Could Help Against the Flu

FEBRUARY 01, 2018
Kevin Kunzmann
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported another peak of weekly visits for influenza-like illness last week, as provided by the US Outpatient Influenza-like Illness Surveillance Network.

As this notably widespread flu season continues into February — and may bear more infections in the form of a second viral wave — researchers and physicians continue to advocate for vaccination and proper hygienic preventive measures.

Oh, and brush your teeth.

Steven Lin, an Australian-based accredited dentist and writer of “The Dental Diet,” told MD Magazine that links between the immune system and oral hygiene indicate that practiced care for the mouth and teeth could only help people during flu season.

Because the body uses hormones and signaling to direct stem cells’ actions — from bone forming or cell management — immune system strength and bone health have common signals, Lin said.

“For example, Vitamin D, we know is important for bone health,” Lin said. “However it's also important to direct immune cell function.”

Lin advised people check their vitamin D levels seasonally — lower rates or tooth decay could point to susceptibility to immunological infections. He pointed to a study published in May 2017 that showed a prenatal vitamin D3 supplementation in pregnant women during their second and third trimesters can influence the pre-born child’s immunity.

The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, led by researchers from the MRC & Asthma UK Centre in London, found that prenatal vitamin D exposure eventually enhanced newborns’ broad-spectrum proinflammatory cytokine response of cord blood mononuclear cells to innate and mitogenic stimuli. The result was infants’ bolstered protection from developing asthma or infectious diseases in early life.

Though Lin advocates for frequent dental checkups and an understanding that dental health could be an indicator of susceptibility to other health risks, he acknowledged that oral health is commonly perceived as a “disconnected aspect of our body.”

“We go to the dentist to have a tooth fixed, when in reality, it’s a long-term process that tells us that we’ve been treating our body the wrong way for a long time,” Lin said.

In spite of the societal distinction between dental and overall health, Lin emphasized the need for a healthy mouth in flu season and beyond.

“There needs to be a concerted effort to join the oral-systemic understanding of the body, so that we can provide real preventative and systemic solutions for patients,” Lin said.

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