How the Common Cold, Teeth and Your Oral Health Are Connected

It starts with a tickle in your throat. By the next day, you've got a stuffy nose, body aches and it feels like you've swallowed sandpaper. While loading up on cough medicine and nasal decongestants may be your first instinct when you've come down with a cold, teeth and how your illness affects your overall oral health should also be a priority.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults get two to three colds per year on average, each lasting between seven and 10 days. It's important to know how to care for yourself properly so you can ease symptoms and avoid cold complications. If you want to feel better fast, you should take steps to safeguard your mouth. So what are the concerns regarding a cold, teeth and your oral health?


Nasal Congestion and Dry Mouth

You know the feeling: You lay your achy head down to sleep only to realize your nasal congestion is preventing you from breathing through your nose. Instead, you have to breathe through your mouth, but it gets so dry and parched that you wake up constantly for a drink of water. Nasal congestion is a major cause of dry mouth and subsequent reduced saliva flow. In addition, certain medications you may be taking, such as decongestants and antihistamines, can reduce saliva flow, according to the Mayo Clinic. Alleviating dry mouth is important because excess dryness promotes the growth of bacteria, increasing your chances of developing tooth decay and gum disease. Plus, it makes it harder to chew, swallow and get your nutrients, which you need in order to heal.

To combat dry mouth during a cold, continue taking your nasal decongestants. They will help dry mouth in the long run, since you'll soon be able to breathe through your nose. Have a water bottle nearby and take frequent sips of water or juice to keep your mouth lubricated and suck on cough drops to stimulate saliva flow. You might also try using a humidifier in your home, which adds moisture to the air and can soothe a dry throat, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Lastly, you can try using a saline nasal spray, which can significantly reduce sinusitis symptoms, according to the American Family Physician, or taking a hot shower, as heat can help clear your nasal passages. And even though you may not feel up to it, keeping up with your regular brushing and flossing schedule while you fight a cold is important for your oral health, as is using peroxide-free and alcohol-free mouthwashes such as Colgate Total® Advanced Pro-Shield™ Mouthwash, which prevent dry mouth.


Sinus Pain and Toothaches

The last thing you need when you're sick is a toothache. While you might think the two are unrelated and you're just having a stroke of bad luck, pain in your upper teeth and tenderness around your sinuses may actually be signs of sinusitis, either caused by your cold virus or a bacterial infection. The upper rear teeth are close to the sinuses, and pain in that area is a common symptom of sinus conditions, according to the Mayo Clinic. The telltale sign is when pain isn't limited to one tooth.

If you've had a recent cold and suddenly feel pain in your upper teeth, you may be suffering from acute sinusitis. Other symptoms include drainage of thick yellow or greenish mucous from the nose or down the throat, pain and pressure around your eyes, cheeks and nose and reduced sense of smell and taste, according to the Yale School of Medicine. Acute sinusitis may resolve on its own, but if you're experiencing these symptoms and they haven't improved with over-the-counter medicines, your best bet is to see your doctor, who may prescribe antibiotics.

If you take these steps as soon as you start feeling cold symptoms coming on, you protect your teeth, mouth and overall oral health, and you'll recover faster from the common cold — teeth included. Don't forget fluids, extra rest and some chicken soup!

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Dry Mouth

Definition

Known by its medical term, xerostomia (zeer-oh-stoh-mee-ah), dry mouth is when you do not have enough saliva to keep your mouth wet and moisturized.

Causes

Dry mouth can occur when the glands in the mouth that make saliva are not working properly. Some common causes include:

  • Stress
  • Certain medications
  • Cancer therapy (radiation/chemotherapy)
  • Autoimmune disorders such as Sjogren’s syndrome
  • Smoking

Related Conditions

Dry mouth got you feeling parched?

Dry mouth can leave your mouth feeling dry and irritated. Try one of our toothpastes formulated to help prevent the occurrence of dry mouth symptoms after brushing.