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Could Good Oral Hygiene Help Protect Against the Flu?

FEB 06, 2018 | KEVIN KUNZMANN
As the United States continues to get hit hard by widespread flu activity in what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has deemed its most severe flu season since the 2009 influenza A (H1N1) pandemic, health care practitioners continue to stress the importance of taking appropriate preventive measures.

It is well-known that one of the best preventive measures against the virus is to get vaccinated. Despite receiving backlash for not being effective enough, the current seasonal flu vaccine is still “a pretty darn good vaccine,” medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases William Schaffner, MD, told Contagion® in an interview.

Now, an Australian-based accredited dentist by the name of Dr. Steven Lin, notes that links between the immune system and oral hygiene suggest that practiced care for the mouth and teeth could potentially help individuals during flu season.

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 told our sister publication MD Magazine.

“For example, Vitamin D, we know is important for bone health,” Dr. Lin said. “However, it's also important to direct immune cell function.”

As such, Dr. Lin recommends that individuals check their vitamin D levels seasonally — lower rates or tooth decay could point to susceptibility to immunological infections. He noted a study published in May 2017 that showed a prenatal vitamin Dsupplementation in pregnant women during their second and third trimesters can influence the pre-born child’s immunity.

The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, led by researchers from the MRC & Asthma UK Centre in London, found that prenatal vitamin D exposure eventually enhanced newborns’ broad-spectrum proinflammatory cytokine response of cord blood mononuclear cells to innate and mitogenic stimuli. The result was infants’ bolstered protection from developing asthma or infectious diseases in early life.

Though Dr. Lin advocates for frequent dental checkups and an understanding that dental health could be an indicator of susceptibility to other health risks, he acknowledged that oral health is commonly perceived as a “disconnected aspect of our body.”

“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,” Dr. Lin said.

In spite of the societal distinction between dental and overall health, Dr. Lin emphasized the need for a healthy mouth in flu season and beyond.

“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,” Dr. Lin stressed.

A previous version of this article can be found at MDMagazine.com.
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