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Respiratory Infections and Oral Health

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Getting sick is no fun. The common cold and even the flu are considered respiratory infections – bugs that attack the respiratory tract. A virus often causes respiratory infections. Respiratory infections are connected to your oral health because your mouth can transmit those diseases in the form of coughing or sneezing. Also, oral hygiene is strongly linked to overall health. Learn what causes respiratory infections, learn more about the connection between oral health and respiratory infections, and tips for preventing and treating disease.

Can Bad Oral Health Cause Respiratory Infections?

Hygiene, including oral hygiene, is vital to prevent all illnesses. Bacteria and viruses can be spread from the mouth to your respiratory tract. The respiratory tract includes the sinuses, nasal passages, the lungs, pharynx, and larynx. All of those parts of your body can become infected with bacteria or a virus. For this reason, respiratory infection is the general term for illnesses that include cold, flu, sinusitis, pharyngitis, laryngitis, and pneumonia. They can last from seven to 10 days, and symptoms can begin between one and three days after exposure to bacteria.

When you don't thoroughly clean your mouth, bacteria can buildup and infect the rest of your mouth. You can breathe this bacteria into your lungs. For most people, this bacteria can be fought-off by the immune system. Unfortunately, if the bacteria are not eliminated, bacterial pneumonia can take root in the lungs.

How Do I Prevent Infections?

Hygiene and oral hygiene are critical for preventing illnesses from spreading. Brush your teeth and use mouthwash to remove as much bacteria as you can from your mouth. Sneeze or cough into tissues and wash your hands thoroughly. Don't touch your mouth or nose when you're ill because you can transfer germs to surfaces or other people.

What are Respiratory Infection Symptoms?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 5 to 20 percent of people in the U.S. get the flu each year. Kids can contract between two to six colds a year, while adults may come down with one to three colds a year.

Respiratory infections can lead to a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Congestion
  • Fatigue
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing

How Infections Spread

Often, respiratory infections are contagious and can spread from one person to another by transmitting germs through droplets from a cough or sneeze. You can also catch an illness by touching the nose or mouth after touching an object exposed to those germs.

If the virus is contagious enough, it can even be transmitted by talking to someone. However, viruses are typically spread through hand-to-hand contact; that's why you should wash your hands frequently. Hand washing is fundamental to prevent spreading or catching a respiratory infection.

Also, use disposable cups and paper towels in bathrooms. Avoid sharing food, drinks, or utensils with others. Drink lots of water or tea to keep your mouth moist, which can reduce the amount of bacteria in your mouth.

Oral Health and Respiratory Disease

Oral health influences your general well-being. You can keep your teeth free of the germs that can infect your respiratory tract by:

  • Brushing your teeth
  • Using interdental brushes to clean in between your teeth
  • Using an antiseptic mouth rinse

It would help if you always replaced your toothbrush after you recover from illness. Resting, drinking lots of fluids, or taking over-the-counter cold medications can help alleviate symptoms. Taking fever reducers and throat lozenges can help ease some symptoms. However, using a humidifier keeps the air moist and helps curb congestion and dry mouth. For chronic illness or severe lung infections, speak to your physician about things you can do to relieve symptoms.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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