What happens to your teeth when you get ill?

by | Jul 23, 2023


Maintaining good oral health is a commitment you make for life not only for aesthetic purposes but to also maintain a good quality of life. The link between oral health and our overall health has long been understood which is why it is always recommended that you follow oral hygiene habits such as brushing and flossing daily, even when ill.

What is the relationship between dental health and your overall health?

Our mouths are generally teeming with mostly harmless bacteria which is natural. When we are healthy our immune system acts as a natural defence and keeps the bacteria at bay because the mouth is the entry point to our digestive and respiratory tracts. However, when we are unwell or have poor oral health it can cause the bacteria to increase to harmful levels causing tooth decay, gum disease and periodontal disease.

If you are taking medication for your illness then that too can cause dry mouth which affects the flow of saliva which again can increase the harmful bacteria in our mouths. This harmful bacteria can increase the risk of strokes and heart disease. On the flip side, when we have diseases such as diabetes it causes the sugar levels in our mouth to increase which creates an environment for bacteria to increase and thereby oral health issues that affect our tooth enamel, teeth and gums.

The immune system and oral health

Our immune systems provide us with a natural defence against harmful bacteria that invade our bodies. When there is an inflammation caused by bacteria, a strong immune system will activate and take action. Even in our mouths, the oral mucosa which is the membrane or the skin inside of the cheeks and lips is where a large variety of immune cells congregate to provide a first line of defence against pathogens. Bacteria that is associated with the mouth is believed to have an immune suppression effect. The common cold, flu and other issues such as allergies and asthma can weaken an immune system. This is why it is important to prevent cavities with proper dental care because it can lead to plaque and tartar build up which cause bad breath and gum disease and periodontal disease, which then contributes to an increase in harmful bacteria.

Impact of mental health conditions on oral health

The state of our mental health has a massive impact on our oral health and of course overall health. When a person suffers from depression, anxiety, panic attacks or eating disorders it can negatively affect oral health because it is one of the first areas to be neglected. For some the effort to visit dentists regularly or to follow dental hygiene habits becomes too much to negotiate. Additionally, they may stop consuming healthy foods and drinks and instead reach for sugary foods for a quick burst of energy or comfort.

In the case of people with eating disorders such as bulimia, there is the additional strain of the effect the acidity of vomit has on the teeth.

Medications and dental health

Those on regular medication to treat continuous health issues may experience dry mouth which is caused by reduced saliva flow and is a common side effect of medication. Other side effects on dental health include bleeding, inflammation and ulcers. Some can cause discolouration and damage the gums which then increases the risk of tooth decay and related problems.

Oral health conditions associated with specific illnesses

There are certain oral health conditions that are caused by certain illnesses which could be further heightened by the medication used to treat them. In the case of diabetes, it creates an increased level of sugar in the mouth, providing a perfect breeding ground for harmful bacteria. It also lowers the saliva flow which causes dry mouth and tooth decay. It can also cause periapical lesions, oral candidiasis, gingivitis and periodontal disease, a coated and fissured tongue. Respiratory diseases and oral health are closely connected with certain diseases causing gums to become red and puffy and teeth to become unstable. Patients can also develop periodontal disease.

Taking care of oral hygiene during illness

For all these reasons mentioned it is important that even when sick you follow good oral hygiene habits to help both your oral and overall health. When you are ill there is a tendency to breathe through your mouth which dries it out, with matters being made worse when you take medication. To help generate saliva which in turn washes away plaque-causing bacteria drink lots and lots of fluids and stay hydrated.

However ill you feel brush your teeth twice a day at least and if possible floss once a day. On days you feel too ill to tackle brushing your teeth at least swish your mouth around with a recommended mouthwash or salt water. Eat healthy and incorporate high-fibre fruits and fresh vegetables to strengthen your dental health. Avoid overly sugary food and drink because they will only make matters worse in the long run.

Make the effort to visit your dentist for check-ups and if dental treatment is recommended, follow through. Losing teeth will negatively impact your life causing additional strain on you. These steps will help you maintain healthy teeth which is important in giving keeping your dental health in good condition while improving your quality of life.


Looking after your oral health when you are ill is a positive way to minimise the general effects of being sick can have on you. It stops the increased build-up of harmful bacteria in your mouth which in turn protects your body from further harmful effects these bacteria can cause. Being ill will have an impact on your dental health whether from lack of hygiene, due to medication or lack of a healthy diet.  Continuing with good oral hygiene habits will help towards preventing future oral problems and allow you to enjoy your life with healthy teeth which is a win when recuperating from or living with the effects being ill has on your life.