Could Brushing After Every Meal Stave Off the Flu? It Very Well Might Help

Communicable Diseases 362 views
Written by Timothy Pfaff

A study about Vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy has led an Australian dentist to think what a host of his colleagues conclude: that dental health is key to a healthy immune system.

Could Brushing After Every Meal Stave Off the Flu? It Very Well Might Help

A clue to tracking health news is noting that things that come up repeatedly. Now for the second time this month we’ve seen indications that good tooth hygiene—yours—could be an important barrier to infectious disease.

In our recent post about kissing, which some dismissed as “smartypants,” we—your faithful scribes—were startled about one of the findings, all of which we reported with untrammeled seriousness. It was, in a reverse kind of way, making a case for top-flight oral hygiene. (We refer you to our section 7 in that post.)

It cited the London Doctors Clinic claim that, startlingly, not only gingivitis but the raw material of tooth decay were transmissible. The good doctors made some indirect recommendations about kissing selectively, but said that the best hedge against both dental maladies was your own oral hygiene. (Then they said even that would only go so far!)

In brief their point was that the possibility of the spread of “bad” bacteria was increased in mouths whose own immune system protectors were compromised. Ergo, brush and floss and do whatever else your dentist recommends as good oral hygiene.

We all know that dentists are impossible on this count, and if they had their way, we’d spend a disproportionate amount of time bent over sinks. But in yet another post here, we learned that dentists have some problems of their own and run not inconsiderable risks in service to our sloppily maintained choppers.

What’s your point?

Well, now doctors have found reason to think that top-notch oral hygiene could be a significant measure in the prevention of flu—contracting it, we mean. We’re glad something concrete came out of the much-worse-than-usual American flu season that prompted Dr. William Shaffner, medical director of the U.S. National Foundation for Infectious Diseases to declare this year’s flu vaccine “pretty darn good.”

If you recall, other countries called this year’s version an “Australian” flu, which was true only insofar as that’s where it struck first. Perhaps having had more time to think about it all, an Australian dentist, Dr. Steven Lin, in the words of the online MD Magazine, observed that “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.”

How’s that?

Well, Dr. Lin extrapolated from a May 2017 study about vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy “that showed a prenatal vitamin Dsupplementation in pregnant women during their second and third trimesters can influence the pre-born child’s immunity.”

“For example,” Dr. Lin told MD Magazine, “Vitamin D we know is important for bone health,” Lin said. “However it's also important to direct immune cell function.” The interview, by Kevin Kunzmann, further summarized Dr. Lin’s explanation as follows:

"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.”

Dr. Lin’s resulting recommendation was that people go in for frequent dental check-ups and monitor their Vitamin D levels seasonally. Either lower than usual Vitamin D levels or tooth decay “could point to susceptibility to immunological infections.”

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What Dr. Lin added

There’s an opinion making the rounds that dental health is an accurate reflector of overall health. It may not go all the way to claiming that you’re only as healthy as your teeth are, but it goes farther than calling your teeth the canaries in the mine shaft. Dr. Lin’s point, and that of a growing number of his colleagues worldwide, is that non-specialist people tend to see their dental health as “disconnected” from their bodily health as a whole to their own detriment. 

Here’s Dr. Lin again: “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. 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.”

Supporting views

In fact, the literature is rich with articles that make Dr. Lin’s very claim. In fact, not only do qualified professionals think that full oral hygiene is vital to the maintenance of a strong immune system. Correspondingly, immune-system-based illnesses can, and do, have a negative effect on dental health.

It’s a topic of its own we’ll take up in a subsequent post. In the meantime we’ll leave you with links to relevant articles (below) and a reminder: You know what to do. And if you’re in any doubt, ask your dentist—in person.


Oral hygiene and the immune system: