Shortly after the World Health Organization (WHO) characterized the spread of COVID-19 as a global pandemic, physicians became aware that infections would likely have a more serious impact on older adults and those with underlying health conditions, like diabetes and heart disease. But because COVID-19 is a novel virus, the scientific community has literally learned about it in real-time, often changing or updating information as new data comes in. As recently as two months ago, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology linked gum disease with severe COVID-19 infections. It appears that the inflammation that accompanies gum disease may be what’s causing worse outcomes in some patients.
Inflammation from Gum Disease and COVID-19 Complications
The study found that COVID-19 patients with gum disease were 4.5 times more likely to need a ventilator, 3.5 times more likely to be admitted to the ICU, and nine times more likely to die.1 The results of this latest study are in line with earlier research on the connection between COVID-19 and gum disease, conducted in the UK2 and Mexico3 last year.
Professionals in the health community have known for years that oral health and cardiovascular health are connected, so they were not entirely surprised by the results of these studies. Read ahead to learn more about gum disease and why inflammation could complicate or worsen a COVID-19 infection.
What is Gum Disease?
Gum disease – also known as periodontal disease – is a progressive condition that can lead to tooth loss if not treated. All gum disease begins with plaque, a bacteria-laden sticky film that gradually hardens and infects the gums. When the disease begins, the gums are inflamed and irritated. This stage of the disease is called gingivitis, and if caught early, it can be reversed. If the disease progresses, the bacteria can cause the gums to pull away from the teeth, leading to loss of bone in the jaw and the increased possibility of tooth loss.
Who is Most Susceptible to Gum Disease?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) state that almost half of all adults over 30 show signs of periodontal disease, affecting 70% of those 65 or older.4 However, it’s most likely to occur in people who have underlying, systemic health conditions.4 People who use tobacco are also at increased risk of developing gum disease.
The Connection Between Gum Disease and COVID-19 Infection Complications
Why would an oral infection that leads to tooth loss be a risk factor for COVID-19 complications? The most likely reason has to do with the inflammation that occurs due to the bacterial infection.1 Bacteria can trigger what’s known as cytokines – a category of proteins that act as cell messengers. Cytokines signal to cells that the immune system needs to ramp up, but if the immune system overreacts, that could cause excess inflammation throughout the body. Too much inflammation can lead to cell destruction and death. Scientists are studying whether or not gum disease causes this cytokine reaction or is just a contributing factor.
Is Gum Disease a Risk Factor for Contracting COVID-19?
So far, there’s no evidence to support the theory that gum disease increases the chances of contracting COVID-19. And although the data clearly shows a correlation between gum disease and severe COVID-19 infections, it’s important to remember that people with underlying health conditions are more likely to develop gum disease and are generally more susceptible to severe COVID outcomes. To date, scientists have not been able to explain exactly how these factors interrelate.
Is it Safe to Visit a Dentist During the COVID-19 Pandemic?
The American Dental Association issued a report last October. The report found less than one percent of dentists throughout the U.S. tested positive for COVID-19.6 The data is based on a June 2020 survey of nearly 2,200 dentists. The likely reason why dentist offices are so safe is due to consistent safety and disinfection protocols that were in place since well before the emergence of this novel coronavirus.
There are many health risks that professionals associate with not addressing dental health issues early on. So, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with your dentist, especially if your gums are red, swollen, painful, or bleed when you brush your teeth.
Treat Inflammation and Potential Gum Disease to Reduce the Risk of Severe COVID-19 Infection
Preventative dentistry is the best way to head off the advanced stages of periodontal disease. Dr. Tehila Cohen at Empire Dental Care will use non-surgical therapies to reverse gingivitis, protect your jaw health, prevent tooth loss, and safeguard your gums from a worsening infection that could more profoundly impact your health. Dr. Cohen has an excellent reputation in the Webster, NY area. Her patients appreciate her caring, compassionate demeanor. She’ll go out of her way to make you feel comfortable. You can feel confident that you’re receiving the highest level of care. Don’t take unnecessary risks with your health. Please schedule an appointment with Empire Dental Care today, as it’s probably been too long since your last dental visit. 585.671.1650