New research is now showing a possible connection between gum disease and COVID-19. This data suggests coronavirus patients with underlying gum disease may have a higher risk of life-threatening health complications from the virus. Periodontitis, which is linked to increases in systemic inflammation, can be a contributing factor to a body’s response to the virus. Treatment for periodontitis can help reduce that inflammation and cytokine response. This connection alone makes the case for the necessity of maintaining optimum dental health during the pandemic.
So what’s the connection?
Gum Disease and Inflammation
The association between periodontal disease and systemic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and chronic lung disease, is widely accepted. Inflammation in the gums has been found to contribute to the body’s overall inflammation, a contributing factor in many diseases. Gum disease can raise the level of cytokines such as interleukin-6, or IL-6, which are inflammatory immune proteins. Their role is to signal the immune system to get to work.
Cytokines and COVID-19
When these proteins flood the site of gum disease, they can then travel through the bloodstream to the lungs, increasing respiratory inflammation as well. The IL-6 immune protein plays a role in the same type of ‘cytokine storm’ that often proves deadly for severely ill coronavirus patients. Studies show that COVID-19 patients with high levels of IL-6 are at greater risk of being hospitalized, putting them at 22x higher risk of being placed on a ventilator. This phenomenon has the capacity to cause more damage than the virus itself.
Meanwhile, bacteria from the mouth can be aspirated into the lower tract of the respiratory system and affect lung function, increasing the risk for pneumonia, COPD, and potentially COVID19-related pulmonary complications.
In simple terms, the coronavirus is more severe in the presence of inflammation, and gum disease increases systemic inflammation. In addition, gum disease has been proven to have harmful effects on lung function in COPD and pneumonia.
A Part of the Solution
As time goes on we will no doubt learn more about the oral connection to COVID-19, but now is not the time to take risks with your oral health. Good oral hygiene is a MUST, including brushing thoroughly for a full two minutes twice a day, and changing your toothbrush at least every three months. Commit to daily flossing, where most periodontal disease begins. Use a good dental rinse as well, to kill as many bacteria as possible.
If you are past due for your preventive or maintenance dental hygiene visits, please call us right away. Deep cleaning and treating gum disease has been shown to reduce the levels of cytokines, which could lower coronavirus risks. Visiting your dental hygienist may help prevent severe superinfections occurring as a result of the virus.
Ultimately, the measures you take every day help protect you and your family from the virus. Besides safety precautions such as wearing masks, washing your hands frequently, and avoiding close contact with others, your best tool to fight the virus is to stay HEALTHY. Exercise, proper diet, and caution are important, but taking care of your mouth is paramount as well. A healthy mouth is a vital part of a healthy body!
We look forward to seeing you again, and are happy to answer any questions or discuss concerns you may have about the steps we are taking to keep you, and every patient, safe in our practice. To make an appointment, please call our office at 479-751-9899.