Your typical "can't rely on a functioning healthcare system" anxiety
January 10, 2021 10:02 PM   Subscribe

Help me not freak out. Gargled with possibly contaminated water bottle while having bleeding gums - how likely will I get a tooth infection?

I was flossing a bit too aggressively today and the gums for two of my teeth bled. I decided to do a saltwater gargle to kill any bacteria. I unthinkingly reached for a nearby water bottle, filled it up with salted water, gargled and did a full mouthwash for about 30 seconds.

Then I realized, with horror, that the water bottle had been next to a window for a few weeks, I hadn't cleaned it in the past few weeks, and I certainly hadn't dried it out in the past few weeks either. I did another saltwater swish with a clean cup this time, but now my mind is reeling.

I'm sure harmful bacteria had been growing in my water bottle (it didn't really smell off though), and I'm terrified that I gave it a straight shot into my bloodstream through my bleeding gums. My city is being slammed by covid and basically won't have a functioning healthcare system for a while, so I'm terrified that I'll get a tooth infection and have to go to the dentist, or worse, get sepsis and require a (non-existent) ICU bed.

I'm very aware I could be catastrophizing - is there any basis to my worries? What are the chances?
posted by facehugger to Health & Fitness (8 answers total)
I'd say there's an extremely small chance of anything happening. First, the bacteria that grows in water bottles left out is rarely the kind that's harmful to humans. Second, by gargling with mouthwash after, you almost for sure killed anything remaining. The viral load from anything else is so little your immune system can handle it.

Good luck! I know people that drink from water bottles no matter how old without issue.
posted by bbqturtle at 10:42 PM on January 10, 2021 [24 favorites]

I’m sure you’ll be fine! Most of us have accidentally drunk from an old water bottle at some point & had no problems. I’m sure there are some horror stories out there if you google but the 99.9% of us — and surely you too — have nothing bad happen so there’s really no story to tell. Plus, you just gargled it and spit out out. Those of us who are very health-aware sometimes forget how most people are less cautious and yet also don’t have any more problems than we do.

Do you also want tips for processing the anxiety you’re feeling? I know these are scary times & things that normally wouldn’t freak us out can be extra scary.
posted by smorgasbord at 10:42 PM on January 10, 2021 [5 favorites]

The water was already salted before you did the first gargle so that would both dilute and start to kill off any bacteria. Plus you were gargling vigorously. Then you did a second gargle right away so anything in contact with your gums would be rubbed off.

If it helps, I've had two appointments with my dentist and one with an oral surgeon. If you did get a tooth infection, they were masked, face shield, gown and gloved and they had a high quality HEPA filter in each exam room. The risk of them passing anything to you is quite low. Plus since people aren't getting routine work done, it is easy to get in to see a dentist. So, even if the worst case happens and you started to get an infection, you could just go to the dentist and get it taken care of.

What works for me is to tell myself (1) really small chance anything bad is going to happen, (2)if that small chance thing did happen, I've got a plan and I can handle it (just go see the dentist) and then (3) distract myself with something else more pleasant to think about.
posted by metahawk at 11:50 PM on January 10, 2021 [4 favorites]

Layperson trying to add another layer of reassurance here... I'd agree with the assertions that it's vanishingly unlikely that anything human-infectious would be living in the bottle at this point; but on top of that, even if there were living bacteria around, which also survived the salt and everything... the ultimate origin of that human-related bacteria would have been your own mouth and respiratory and digestive tracts.

The bottle is an infinitely smaller source of that stuff than what your gums are already attached to and exposed to, and everything is designed to be connected and interact that way. No worries.
posted by XMLicious at 2:48 AM on January 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: When I think about tooth/nose infections, I remind myself that I (and humans generally) regularly encounter incredibly nasty bacteria via the air and random environmental crap. In fact, we're build to do so. The mouth and nose aren't actually especially great environments for infection. Think about how often people bite their cheeks or get nosebleeds! Think about people recovering from minor dental surgery! You don't not-eat for a week after wisdom tooth surgery.

Think about how someone, eg, would in pre-pandemic times go to the grocery store, buy some kind of off-the-shelf sandwich that had been handled by other shoppers and eat it in the car without washing their hands. Full of bacteria! When I lived in Shanghai in the 90s, it was not possible for food carts and small restaurants to adhere super-strictly to food safety standards purely because of infrastructure issues. I ate a lot of delicious food, bit my cheek occasionally (I'm one of the people who tends to do that) and yet I never got a mouth or tooth infection.

If humans were fragile enough to get life-threatening infections from ambient bacteria whenever our gums bled, humans would not have made it this far.

I mean, I validate your feelings; I've had dumb health worries ("this isn't a pimple, it's an infection going septic!") since the start of the pandemic.

Another thing you can do even though I think it's not necessary - do a few extra salt gargles today. The body can actually clear infections itself. I mean, I think you don't need to, but I do lots of health stuff I don't need to do just for the peace of mind.
posted by Frowner at 5:58 AM on January 11, 2021 [10 favorites]

Water's mostly pretty clean, growing algae sometimes, but water sitting in your home is unlikely to harbor a lot of harmful bacteria. You used salt. The water was in your mouth only a short while. Your mouth has saliva, which is protective. Your body has a robust immune system. You get more bacteria from licking your finger. This is not a big issue.
posted by theora55 at 7:17 AM on January 11, 2021 [3 favorites]

Mouth infection from water bottle is extremely unlikely. Your mouth's saliva has some anti-bacterial functions and is constantly producing more of it. Even with bleeding gum, it's rather unlikely. I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by kschang at 6:41 PM on January 11, 2021

Response by poster: Update - thanks guys for calming me down. Almost 2 weeks later - no tooth infection and no sepsis! Haha!
posted by facehugger at 9:48 PM on January 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

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