What Happens to Your Teeth When You’re Sick

Published on September 20, 2017 | Dental Tips

Here’s what happens to your teeth when you’re sick, and how you can take care of your oral health even when the rest of your body isn’t feeling too well.


Up to 20% of Americans will get the flu this year.1 Being sick with the cold or flu is uncomfortable enough — but the effects of illness can wreak havoc on your teeth, too.

Between the effects of vomiting and dry mouth on your oral health, you’ve got to take extra care of your teeth when you’re sick.  

Below are common side-effects of being sick, and how to treat the oral health issues that may follow.


Vomiting is bad for your teeth because the gastric acid from your stomach can erode your tooth enamel.2 Once your enamel breaks down, your teeth can become brittle, hypersensitive and susceptible to tooth decay.2

However, brushing your teeth immediately after vomiting isn’t the best idea. You may rub the gastric acid all over your tooth enamel, rather than brushing it away.3

What to do:

  • After vomiting, swish with water or a mixture of water and 1 tsp. baking soda to help wash away the acid.
  • Spit out the water or mixture, and wait about 30 minutes before you brush your teeth.

Sinus Pressure

If you’re experiencing a sinus infection or sinus pressure, it can often lead to a toothache4, especially in the upper molars near your sinus cavity. If your toothache is persistent, consult with your doctor to ensure the issue isn’t something else like teeth grinding or an underlying medical issue.

Ear infections can also sometimes cause tooth pain.5 Consult your physician if you think you have an ear infection so that you can receive proper diagnosis and treatment.

What to do:

  • Place a warm, damp towel around your nose, cheeks and eyes to ease the pressure.
  • Consult with your doctor if the pain is lasting, and they may prescribe over-the-counter medicine for relief, such as decongestants or pain relievers.


You need lots of fluids to stay hydrated as you fight off illness, and to help prevent dry mouth. Dry mouth puts you at greater risk for cavities2, as saliva is a natural mouth cleanser.6

Medications that treat flu or cold (like antihistamines, decongestants or pain relievers) can also cause dry mouth.

What to do:

  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
  • Suck on sugar-free cough drops to keep your saliva flowing.

Yellow Teeth

You may notice your teeth looking slightly discolored when you’re fighting off an illness. This effect is usually not related to the sickness itself, but rather you may not be brushing your teeth as much as you should.

Between staying in bed all day to recover or taking cold medicine right before you go to sleep, bacteria can build up on your teeth and make them appear yellow.

Additionally, being sick can cause dehydration. Similar to taking medications and decongestants that cause dry mouth, being dehydrated means less saliva in your mouth to fight off bacteria.

What to do:

  • Be sure to brush before bed and after using cough medicine or decongestants.
  • Drink lots of water to stay hydrated.


When you’re down with the cold or flu, you’re probably no stranger to cough drops, cough medicine or even sports drinks to replenish your fluids. However, these remedies can be packed with sugar and can be bad for your oral health.

Water is always the safest and healthiest beverage for your oral health when you’re sick. A salt-water mouth-rinse can help cut down on gingivitis, bacteria and bad breath in your mouth when you’re sick, and help naturally heal wounds in your mouth.

What to do:

  • Choose sugar-free sports drinks.
  • Use sugar-free cough drops and medicine when possible.

Staying on top of your oral health when you’re sick is the best way to cut down on bacteria build-up in your mouth. Find out if brushing your tongue should be part of your routine >

1 http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/flu-statistics
2 http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/docs/ACF2697.pdf
3 http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/c/cold-and-flu-season
4 http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/acute-sinusitis/expert-answers/toothache/faq-20058299
5 http://www.knowyourteeth.com/infobites/abc/article/?abc=P&iid=323&aid=1307
6 http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/dry-mouth-treatments#1

Brought to you by Blue Hills Dental. Material discussed is meant for general informational purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice. Although the information has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, please note that individual situations can vary. You should always consult a licensed professional when making decisions concerning dental care. #2017-45492 (exp. 9/19).

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