By now, most people are familiar with the risk factors for severe COVID-19—respiratory conditions, obesity, age, and smoking, among others. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology just added a new condition to the list: gum disease.
The Link Between Gum Disease and COVID-19
The study followed 568 patients who had COVID-19 infections and divided them into two groups—one with only mild symptoms and one with severe complications, including ICU admission, ventilation, and death. COVID-19 patients who also had gum disease were nine times more likely to die, 4.5 times more likely to need a ventilator during their hospital stays, and 3.5 times more likely to be admitted to the ICU than COVID-19 patients with healthy gums.
Prior to this, research from the United Kingdom and Mexico linked severe COVID-19 cases to gum disease, identifying it as a significant risk factor. How can gum disease exacerbate COVID-19 symptoms? Researchers aren’t exactly sure just yet, but gum disease has also been linked to cardiovascular issues and even premature birth; mounting evidence points to gum disease causing systemic inflammation throughout the body, impacting overall health.
Gum disease is an active infection, which means it triggers inflammatory cytokines. Some experts postulate that the cytokines from the gum disease set the stage for the cytokine storm that is typical of severe COVID-19 patients.
In addition, the bacteria found in the mouths of patients with gum disease might be causing patients with COVID-19 to have complications. This bacteria can easily be spread to the lungs through regular breathing. Some researchers also suspect that the ACE2 receptors in the mouth, which are a point of entry for the coronavirus, are overactive in patients with gum disease and therefore less resistant to viral infection.
Preventing and Treating Gum Disease
With widespread vaccination on the horizon, you may be less concerned about the link between COVID-19 and gum disease now than you would have been a year ago, and that’s understandable. Still, periodontal disease has been linked to other serious health conditions, so it’s important to take steps to protect your gums.
Brushing for two minutes twice a day and flossing at least once a day will help keep gum disease at bay, as will visits to our office for dental cleanings every six months. If you have dry mouth, drink more water; if you notice your gums are bleeding, red, or swollen, give us a call so we can schedule an appointment for you.
The good news is that if you do have gum disease, it’s easy to treat—and when caught in its early stages, it can be completely reversed before any permanent damage occurs. A simple procedure called scaling and root planing removes plaque, tartar, and bacteria from below the gumline and smooths the roots of the teeth so the gums reattach, closing the pockets where bacteria collects.