Does the uptick in illnesses have you worried for your children?

Flu season has officially arrived, and it has been rearing its ugly head more than ever this year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have indicated that flu activity in Texas is very high. It seems that most other states aren’t faring much better. Not only that, but Covid numbers have experienced a slight uptick already in 2023, and RSV is still lingering and will continue to run rampant until spring. All of these illnesses have parents of young children on high alert. And while there are many things you can do to lessen the risks of your kids developing the flu and other respiratory illnesses, one thing that often gets forgotten is the importance of keeping up with their oral health even when they are sick.

Don’t forget to protect your child’s oral health when they are sick.

Chances are you, as a parent, have had the flu at some point in your life. You know how miserable it can be. Trying to keep food and fluids down is one thing, but the body aches and the constant running to the toilet due to an upset stomach are generally more than we can muster. But the last time you were sick with the flu bug, did you think about brushing your teeth? We bet your oral health fell to the wayside as you prayed or wished for your health to improve so you could feel normal again. Well, we’re here to tell you that when it comes to your kids (and you too), don’t forget to protect their oral health when they are sick.

Tips for Caring for Your Child’s Oral Health During Flu Season

Helping your child take care of their teeth and gums when they have the flu is more important than many parents realize. When your child has been vomiting from the flu (or food poisoning), their teeth are more subject to tooth decay. So, we’ve put together some tips to help you take those extra steps to help your child feel better while protecting their teeth and gums.

1. Brushing twice a day is still essential.

Although you and your child might want to skip this step, we implore you not to. The fact is that oral bacteria don’t stop developing when your kid is sick. So, it is necessary to keep up that oral care routine to prevent bacteria from hardening into plaque. Make it as easy as possible for your child. Bring a cup of water to your child’s room with their toothbrush and toothpaste so that they can brush their teeth while sitting in bed. Have an extra cup handy, so they can spit out the excess toothpaste when they are done.

2. Avoid brushing your teeth right after vomiting.

Though your child will want to wash away that lingering taste after vomiting, it’s best not to brush the teeth for at least 30 minutes afterward. Instead, help your child to rinse out their mouth with water. After rinsing, have them gargle with an age-appropriate mouthwash to freshen their mouth and get rid of any lingering yucky tastes. As a note, mouthwash is not recommended for children under six years of age. If your child has a sore throat, a saltwater rinse can help kill any bacteria and relieve some of their pain and discomfort.

3. Push those fluids.

For general health, kids under the age of three need about four cups of water per day. For kids over three; this increases to five cups per day, and then up to seven cups per day for kids over the age of eight. And when kids are sick, they still need to be hydrated. Water can help them recover faster and is also good for their oral health. The common cold, RSV, and influenza can cause dry mouth, increasing risk of tooth decay. Sipping water throughout the day can help keep the body hydrated and rinse away food particles. If your child has been vomiting or has vomited recently, have them drink about one teaspoon of water every five minutes.

4. Help your child take a warm bath to help with congestion.

You probably know how good a nice warm bath feels when you are sick, and your child will likely feel the same way. The warm water can also help clear up your child’s sinuses. When their sinuses are backed up, it can cause tooth pain and sensitivity. If your child is exceptionally congested, consider a nasal spray, Neti pot, or nasal irrigation system to help them clear it out. And if your child has a fever, stick to tepid bath water versus warm or hot so their body temperature does not increase unnecessarily.

5. Encourage the B-R-A-T diet.

Eating can help your child regain their strength sooner. But, when their tummy is upset, they might not feel much like eating. Bland, plain foods may settle well in their empty stomach, so we recommend the B-R-A-T diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast). You may also want to try warm, salty foods if they have a sore throat, or warm broth and soup, as the added salt can have some extra benefits when your child is sick. Of course, we generally recommend a low-salt diet, but salt helps reduce inflammation and has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, so it can aid in breaking down bacterial pathogens.

The key here is that if your child is up to eating, let them try what sounds good to them. Have them eat small portions and rest a while to ensure they can keep the food down before they eat much more. Also, if your child has a sore throat, stick to sugar-free cough drops which are better on their teeth and gentler on their upset tummy.

6. Have your child wash their hands periodically throughout the day.

When your child is sick, encourage them to wash their hands periodically throughout the day, not just after vomiting or using the restroom. You can even help them by bringing them a clean damp cloth and have them rub their hands on it. Per the CDC, washing hands can help prevent spreading germs from person to person or from surfaces people touch after they’ve touched their eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. When your child does wash their hands in the bathroom, encourage them to practice handwashing basics, such as scrubbing the backs of their hands, between their fingers, on their wrists, and under their nails, where most germs like to hide.

Your child’s best pediatric dentist hopes they feel better soon!

It’s no fun to be sick, and it can be disheartening when your kid is feeling anything but their best. The team at Dr. Jeffrey C. Jaynes hopes your child feels better soon. And we hope that our recommendations help bring your child (and you) some comfort.

We look forward to seeing you at your child’s next preventive dentistry visit.