It’s Flu Season – Why You Should Keep Your Oral Health In Tip-Top Shape.

Posted on Oct 16, 2023 by William J. Claiborne, DDS MS

It’s cold and flu season. Now having weathered the worst pandemic Americans have ever experienced, a new emphasis has taken hold for the need to have flu vaccines and the latest Covid booster.

Vaccines, of course, do not fully eliminate the potential to acquire these health conditions. While they lower the chances of their development, the immune system still relies on our own actions. This includes taking measures to avoid their development in the first place, such as frequent handwashing, eating a healthy diet, mask-wearing in crowds for vulnerable populations, etc.

We learned much about the immune system during the Covid pandemic. And, the need for keeping oral health in good condition became more clear than ever.

During the worst of the outbreak, a 2020 study found that individuals with gum disease who contracted COVID-19 were 9 times more likely to die. And, the study showed that COVID patients who already had periodontitis (the advanced form of gum disease) were 3 times more likely to end up in intensive care or on a ventilator.

Evidence shows, too, that avoiding dental care may actually increase the potential to contract the virus. And, poor oral health can increase its severity, and even fatality rates.

This is not only a concern for U.S. citizens, it’s a worldwide wake-up call. About 50% of the world’s population over the age of 30 suffer from periodontitis. Americans aren’t in much better shape – with over 47% having some form of gum disease.

Because gum disease can begin without obvious symptoms, or be present without having pain, it can be easily ignored. This allows the disease to progress further.

This is why dental care is deemed by Congress as “essential healthcare,” as it supports the need for preventive measures for gum disease and tooth loss. As a periodontist, I believe it is also important that Americans understand the signs and symptoms of gum disease as well as the overall health risks it brings.

Although gum disease can exist without obvious indication (typically in the early stage known as gingivitis), warning signs of gum disease usually begin with swollen and tender gums that bleed easily when brushing teeth.

As it worsens, the healthy pink hue of gums darkens to more of a red or purple color and breath odor is persistently bad. The gums begin to loosen their strong grip around the base of teeth, allowing infectious bacteria to reach bone structures that support tooth roots. In advanced stages, pus pockets form near the base of some teeth and gum tissues become spongy in texture.

The bacteria of periodontal disease don’t just damage oral health. This is where there is so much concern throughout the healthcare fields.

Through weakened oral tissues, the bacteria can enter the bloodstream and trigger inflammatory reactions. These reactions can worsen some serious health conditions and even activate others. Research has found correlations between these bacteria and heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, some cancers (including pancreatic), preterm babies, erectile dysfunction, and Alzheimer’s disease.

With such serious correlations, it should be common knowledge that oral wellness is a necessary part of maintaining good overall health. However, this isn’t necessarily the case. A report commissioned by Delta Dental Plans Association recently revealed concerning information regarding age groups and perceptions of oral health.

With over 1,000 online participants, 87% listed their priority for maintaining proper oral care was to save money or avoid unexpected expenses. Two-thirds of the group listed their commitment to at-home dental hygiene being to avoid tooth decay and gum disease. Yet, only 79% of adults stated they brushed their teeth twice a day with only 33% claiming to floss daily.

In reviewing age groups, the report found that baby boomers (those born between 1946 – 1964) understand there is a strong link between their oral and overall health but are less aware than other generations about the connection between poor dental health and chronic diseases (such as arthritis and diabetes).

Those listed in the Generation Z group (born between 1997 – 2012) showed less commitment to their oral health as the “boomers,” but were more focused on eco-friendly and nontraditional oral care products. Only 76% of Generation Z agreed that oral health is closely connected to overall health.

If you wear dentures or partials, keeping them clean is an important measure to take to avoid getting sick. Why?

One study (published in the Journal of The American Dental Association) assessed bacteria levels of the porous material that make up the gum base of dentures and partials. In the mouth, it becomes coated with a sticky bacteria known as biofilm.

One study found that wearing dentures while sleeping doubles the risk of pneumonia in elderly adults. (

It has also been found that this biofilm can harbor MRSA or bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics. It was also found that the bacteria in the biofilm doesn’t just stay in the mouth. It can be inhaled into the lungs where infections become much more difficult to treat. (

Regardless of age, Americans must maintain a healthy smile in order to support their immune systems. Research shows that oral bacteria are also connected to gut health, so keeping bacteria levels in the mouth in check can go a long way in healthy benefits far beyond the mouth.

For those who have avoided regular dental care due to dental fear or anxiety, we offer several comfort options, including oral and IV sedation.

Oral sedation is a pill that helps patients relax.  I.V. sedation (also known as ‘twilight sleep’) places the patient in a deeper sleep state and erases memory of the procedure. It is administered by a doctor of anesthesiology for optimal comfort and safety with patients closely monitored with advanced safety equipment throughout treatment.

Call 828-274-9440 to arrange an examination appointment or to learn more about our Asheville periodontal dental office.


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