Maintaining good oral hygiene may help people protect themselves from severe Covid19 infections, according to two different studies published this year; suggesting the simple practice of taking care of one’s teeth and gums could be potentially life-saving.
The studies, both peer-reviewed, found links between periodontitis, a gum disease often caused by poor oral hygiene, and severe Covid19 infections. Periodontitis, a form of infection caused by bacteria, can cause gums to pull away from their teeth, leaving behind small, exposed areas between them, where the gums should ideally have been. This resulting inflammation determines the extent to which a Covid19 patient is affected, a study published this month in the Journal of Oral Medicine and Dental Research shows.
An international team of researchers from the U.S., the U.K., and South Africa found that the coronavirus is present in high concentrations in the saliva of Covid19 patients. Due to infected gums that have begun pulling away from one’s teeth, the coronavirus infection can enter the individual’s bloodstream and make its way to the lungs — even before the airways are affected by the virus. And this can significantly determine how much and how severe of a hold the novel coronavirus has on the individual.
“Gum disease makes the gums leakier, allowing microorganisms [and viruses] to enter into the blood,” Iain Chapple, professor of periodontology at the University of Birmingham in the U.K., who co-authored this study, told the press.
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Another study, published in February in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology, found that individuals suffering from periodontitis were more than three times as likely to require hospitalization, more than four times likelier to need ventilation, and the worst — almost nine times more likely to die of Covid19.
“In patients with severe cases of Covid19, the virus causes an inflammatory response that can lead to complications such as being intubated or even death. Our research shows that periodontitis can [exacerbate] this,” Wenji Cai, a trained dentist pursuing her Ph.D. at the McGill University in Canada, who also co-authored the February study, said in a statement.
But how does periodontitis, a bacterial infection, exacerbate Covid19, a viral infection? Cai’s colleague breaks it down as follows: “What we suspect is happening is that upon Covid19 infection, periodontal patients start the course of the disease with an already high level of inflammation in their bodies… This puts the patients at a disadvantage… rendering them more susceptible to the severe outcomes of the disease,” Faleh Tamimi, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Dentistry at McGill University, who was also involved in the study, explained.
It is important to note both the studies established a correlation between periodontitis and severe Covid19 infections, and not a causation. While scientists continue to investigate the link further, it may be time to put common knowledge to use to prevent a serious Covid19 infection — especially given the dynamic, worsening trajectory of Covid19 within and outside India.
“Daily oral hygiene and plaque control will not only improve oral health and well-being,” Iain Chapple says, “but could also be life-saving in the context of the pandemic.”
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