We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: oral health is health. Everything from what you eat to how you care for your smile impacts your oral and overall health and may affect how your body fights and responds to COVID-19. While the science is evolving, data suggests that oral health may play an essential role during the COVID-19 pandemic when it comes to staying healthy.
Prexisting conditions contribute to superinfections
For people with preexisting conditions, like diabetes, heart disease, obesity and hypertension, new evidence shows that these conditions could contribute to an increased risk of developing superinfections should they get the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Superinfections include the growth of bacteria and fungal infections on top of the viral infection in the lungs or other parts of the body.
Chronic, preexisting conditions often have negative oral health effects too. For example, diabetics tend to suffer from gum disease earlier in life than those without diabetes. And studies show possible links between periodontal (gum) disease and heart disease. Researchers found that people with gum disease are twice as likely to have coronary artery disease.
These periodontal pathogens could add to an excess of pathogens in people with severe COVID-19 infections, leading to a superinfection.
Chronic gum disease and COVID-19 complications
In a recent study published by the Journal of the California Dental Association titled, “The Mouth COVID Connection,” researchers show that inflammation in the gums, also known as gum disease or periodontal disease, can contribute to the body’s overall inflammation. This systemic inflammation can increase a person’s IL-6 levels, a harmful protein in the body. When these IL-6 levels are high, it can be a predicator for lung failure, putting COVID-19 patients at a 22 times higher risk of being placed on a ventilator. Consider these other key findings from this same study:
- COVID-19 is more severe in the presence of inflammation
- Poor plaque control can negatively affect the lungs of hospitalized COVID-19 patients
- Researchers think gum disease may play an indirect role on COVID-19 patient outcomes because of it’s harmful effects on lung function
COVID-19 stressors affect your smile
Another recent report from the American Dental Association Health Policy Institute found that dentists have seen a rise in stress-related oral health conditions in their patients since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than half of the dentists polled for the study reported an increase in teeth grinding, chipped or cracked teeth and disorders affecting the jaw muscles.
Anxiety and tension from the pandemic can cause people to grind their teeth as a response to stress. Clenching the jaw or holding the teeth too tightly together can cause oral health problems like jaw pain, earaches, headaches, and worn-down teeth.
Stress can also lead to bad oral health habits like smoking, drinking and neglecting a normal hygiene routine.
Prevention is key
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This saying couldn’t be truer when it comes to protecting your oral health. Simply maintaining a good oral hygiene routine at home is your first line of defense against all oral health complications, including those linked to COVID-19. Brushing and flossing twice a day can go a long way in preventing gum disease.
It’s also important to visit the dentist every 6 months for regular cleanings and exams. Dentists can detect up to 120 diseases that have signs and symptoms in the mouth—diseases like diabetes, heart disease, cancers and other conditions that can put you at greater risk for complications from COVID-19.
However, if you cannot make an in-person office visit, you may have access to services through teledentistry. During these virtual consultations, your dentist can address problems and help determine if you need to schedule an in-person visit.
Remember that in addition to masking and practicing social distancing, something as simple as picking up your toothbrush could be one of the easiest ways to care for your overall health during these challenging times.