With flu season in full swing, it’s important to stay fit and healthy, otherwise your surgery could become as incapacitated as you are. Jessica Prince-Montague discovers how to ensure your wellbeing—and business—stay in great shape.
According to the World Health Organization, up to 10 per cent of all adults will contract the flu virus every year. So it’s no surprise then that evading illness in winter can often feel like dodging traffic on a busy road. And if you are unlucky enough to be struck by high fevers, muscle aches and a pounding head, work is the last thing you feel like doing, particularly if you’re a dentist. Dr Markijan Hupalo, who runs Sydney Prosthodontics and the educational resource, www.aboutyourteeth.com.au, has been hit by the full-blown flu a few times in recent years. “When this happens, it’s difficult to work in the first place because you don’t feel well. But our work is so detailed that if you’re not mentally focused, it’s even more difficult.”
Luckily, Dr Hupalo has only ever taken one or two days off at a time and now maintains a consistent clean bill of health thanks to a flu vaccination, regular Pilates sessions and a balanced diet. In short, he knows how an extended period out of the office will affect his hip pocket. “When you’re a self-employed business, it doesn’t function when you’re not there. I am luckier than others because I work with two other specialists, so if there’s an emergency patient who really needs to be seen, one of my other partners will tend to see them. But essentially, you lose that day’s business.” The best way to protect yourself then—not only from the flu but also from the financial loss that can come with your absence—is to prevent yourself from getting sick in the first place. As a dentist, this isn’t always the easiest task, given the job involves working long hours, being on your feet, and coming into contact with dozens of patients (and their germs) every day. Adhering to the necessary hygiene requirements of dentistry is, needless to say, essential to stave off possible viruses lurking around the surgery. The annual flu vaccine is also recommended. However, both of these are only the starting point.
Dr Kate Wood, a chiropractor and expert in exercise science and nutrition, says dentists should aim to boost their immunity through diet, too. It’s her belief the less toxins and processed foods you put in your body, the more protected you will be. “The general rule of thumb is to eat fresh, local, in-season and organic produce where possible,” she says. “Keep your immunity strong by eating foods high in vitamin C—lemons, greens, kiwi fruit—and foods such as garlic, ginger, miso soup, berries, bone broths, vegie soups and fermented foods.” Accredited practising dietitian and Dietitian Association of Australia spokesperson, Georgie Rist, agrees and adds: “A huge 94 per cent of Australians do not eat the recommended daily two serves of fruit and five vegetables.” She suggests dentists include at least one serve of vegies at every meal—including breakfast. That way, you are already two-thirds of the way to meeting your daily requirements. For Rist, hydration is also essential for supporting a strong immune system. “[It] helps flush out our systems, aiding in the removal of toxins, bacteria and waste products from the body.” She recommends drinking at least eight glasses per day and mixing it up with herbal teas or fresh lemon and ginger in warm water in between appointments. Exercise is the other big kicker in keeping sickness at bay.
However, this can be tough when it is dark and cold by the time you return home each evening. Try and persevere though, says GP Dr Kate Norris. “Exercise triggers a rise in immune system cells that can attack any potential pathogens. Furthermore, it can help boost your immune system by increasing your body temperature. This helps kill off invading pathogens…and also help reduce stress, which can also predispose you to an infection.” Choose a type of exercise you enjoy, as you’ll be more likely to maintain a routine. Even 20 minutes of stretching a day can work wonders. If you can do it during the daylight and outdoors, all the better. “Vitamin D is an effective microbial agent, producing antimicrobial peptides in your body that kill bacteria, viruses and fungi,” says Dr Norris. “It is important to maintain optimal levels in winter either through supplementation or sensible sunshine.” Someone who already adheres to all this advice is Dr Ivor Jacobson, who owns two Sydney practices, Leichhardt Dental Centre and Double Bay Dentists. The 57-year-old is an avid swimmer, cyclist and kayaker, who wakes up at 6am every morning so he can exercise before work—winter notwithstanding. He says his history of infectious illness is “virtually nothing”, because he chooses to live a consistently active lifestyle combined with clean, healthy diet.
Other than a couple of supplements—“for a vitamin and mineral lift”—Dr Jacobson says the only other thing that might differentiate him is the fact he exercises when he starts to feel sick. “Most people breathe shallowly and don’t get real air into the base of their lungs,” he says. “So whenever I feel a bit chesty, I run hills or stairs so that I’m panting. That way I can clear out any fluid.” Dr Norris agrees taking action at the early stage of sickness could mean the difference. “Ideally you must address nutrition, sleep, exercise and stress the moment you feel yourself becoming unwell,” she says. Her big tip is to immediately ditch sugar and processed foods because they suppress, rather than enhance, immunity. She also suggests taking some zinc. “A Cochrane Database review of zinc found that when taken within one day of the first symptoms, it can cut down the time you have a cold by 24 hours,” she says. Meanwhile, Dr Kate Wood suggests booking in for acupuncture when sniffle or sore throat threatens because it, too, boosts immunity. “There is also research that supports acupuncture is more effective for pain than most over the counter painkillers, not to mention a healthier alternative,” she says.