COVID 19 and Gums
We continue to learn more and more regarding COVID-19. Several medical conditions and complications are being associated with patients who have been infected with the virus. In a recent study, gum disease was found to be associated with severe outcomes of COVID-19 and other various medical conditions. In order to better understand how gum disease may be associated with COVID-19, it is helpful to first understand gum disease and how it may be associated with other complications.
Gum disease affects the structures which surround and support the teeth. This includes the bones and gum tissue surrounding the teeth. Gum disease differs from tooth decay as it causes holes in the bones which support the teeth’s roots. Tooth decay, in comparison, causes holes in the actual teeth. An estimated 90% of the adult population is impacted by gum disease. In most cases, gum disease is caused by neglect and poor oral hygiene
The body naturally responds to a bacterial infection in the gums through inflammation. The term cytokine storm is used to describe the process where proteins are released and may contribute the inflammatory response which can destroy other tissues throughout the body. These various inflammatory products can enter the blood stream through these infected gum pockets around the teeth. The inflammatory products associated with gum disease then enter the blood stream and can move to other organs. It is even possible for tissue damage to occur.
One study suggests that patients who were hospitalized with coronavirus who had prior underling gum disease may be at an increased risk for severe outcomes and respiratory failure. The study went on to indicate that symptoms of chronic periodontitis may lead to severe complications from COVID-19. Because there are higher levels of inflammatory products present, there is increased risk for lung damage. Lung damage can progress to respiratory failure and require the use of a ventilator for COVID-19 patients. Although this specific research is new and in the early stages, periodontal health is indeed connected to a patient’s general health.
An increased amount of scientific evidence which suggests that there may be an association between gum disease and other health complications. For example, research found that diabetic patients are more susceptible to gum disease and infection. The association between gum disease and diabetes is considered bi-directional. This means that gum disease is more likely to occur in a patient with uncontrolled diabetes. In addition, the inflammation associated with gum disease makes it more challenging to control diabetes. Lastly, diabetes is included in the list of underlying health conditions which can increase a patient’s risk for severe illness and complications associated with COVID-19.
Other types of systemic diseases associated with gum disease include the following:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Cardiovascular disease such as a heart attack or stoke
- Pulmonary disease
- Pre-term delivery and babies who have a low birth weight
- Some types of cancer such as kidney and pancreatic
While everyone can be susceptible to gum disease, some patients may be an increased risk. This includes patients over 65 years old being at risk for severe gum disease. In addition, some minority groups may also have an increased risk for periodontitis.
Good oral hygiene and prevention are critical in fighting gum disease. This includes twice daily brushing and daily flossing. Patients should also visit their dentist regularly for an examination and professional cleaning. The early detection and treatment of gum disease in critical for ensuring a good outcome.