Ever imagine that a simple daily habit like brushing and flossing might save your life? Periodontal (aka gum) disease is a gum infection caused by the accumulation of bacteria-filled biofilm. Over time, it causes bleeding gums, bad breath, and even bone loss, which can lead to tooth loss if untreated. More often than not, gum disease develops due to less-than-stellar home care habits like not brushing and flossing regularly. Still, there are other factors like genetics that might be out of your control.
We know gum disease can cause systemic inflammation and have evidence indicating a connection to medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s. It’s starting to look like there may also be a connection to COVID-19 outcomes. Scientists are still learning about the coronavirus and COVID-19, but a preliminary study found an association between gum disease and COVID-19 severity. Researchers reviewed the national electronic health records of Qatar from February to July 2020. Compared to patients with healthy gums, patients with periodontitis (the most severe form of gum disease) were nearly 9 times more likely to die from COVID-19, 4.5 times more likely to require a ventilator, and 3.5 times more likely to be admitted to the ICU.
Another study, this one from England, found an increased risk of mortality following COVID-19 infection in people with gum disease. Meanwhile, German researchers noticed that hospitalized COVID-19 patients with high levels of a harmful protein produced by severe gum disease were more likely to develop respiratory complications. Why is this? One theory is that increased inflammation can trigger an over-aggressive immune response and deteriorate health conditions. We know gum disease can cause high levels of blood biomarkers associated with inflammation. Another possibility is that ACE2 receptors, which serve as one entry point for the SARS-CoV-2 virus into the body, exist in large numbers in the mouth. They could become overactive in people with gum disease, potentially reducing resistance.
For now, there is no concrete evidence that gum disease increases the likelihood of COVID-19. Although there is data pointing to a correlation between serious gum disease and a severe case of COVID-19, their true relationship is likely more complicated than simple cause and effect. Bacteria and inflammation associated gum disease could aggravate an infection, or gums might serve more as an indicator of overall health. Gum disease is also more prevalent in patients with high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and pregnancy, all established comorbidities of COVID-19.
In the era of the global COVID-19 pandemic, maintaining good oral health is especially important. Therefore, prevention is better. The good news is that you can usually prevent gum disease with a combination of good home care and regular dental wellness visits. The most effective way to keep gum disease at bay is to brush your teeth with a fluoride toothpaste for two minutes twice a day and to clean between your teeth with floss daily. At your dental wellness visits, we’ll periodically take measurements of your gum health. If an infection does develop, it can be managed. Once a hygienist clears the infection around the gum, quarterly gum care visits will keep bacterial levels in check and reduce any health risks.
*The information contained in this post should NOT be used as a substitute for the advice of an appropriately licensed health care provider. The information provided here is for informational purposes only. Although we attempt to provide accurate and up-to-date information, no guarantee is made to that effect. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
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