The world has changed so much in the last year and we are learning more about COVID-19 daily. We know risk factors for COVID can include age, lung disease, diabetes, and heart disease, but did you also know your oral health has an impact? A recent study shows the connection between gum disease and respiratory failure, and is another reminder of the importance of good oral health.
What is Gum Disease?
Plaque is a colorless, sticky substance that coats the teeth. It contains bacteria that mixes with sugars to create acids. If plaque is not removed through daily brushing and flossing, this turns into tartar. Tartar then hardens around the teeth and gums, and can lead to infection. This affects where the gum attaches to the teeth and is called “point of attachment”. The early stages of gum disease is called gingivitis. Symptoms of gingivitis may include red or swollen gums, and possible bleeding while brushing and flossing.
Periodontitis is an advanced stage of gum disease that affects the soft tissue and can lead to bone loss. If untreated, this can cause the teeth to loosen and fall out.
Signs of Periodontitis include:
- Swollen and red gums
- Bleeding when brushing or flossing
- Painful chewing
- Receding gums
- New gaps between teeth
- Loose teeth
- Bad Breath
Gum Disease and COVID
According to a recent three-month study in Germany, having periodontitis prior to catching COVID can increase your risk of death. They conducted the study on hospitalized patients in critical condition or on a ventilator. Research suggested that patients with advanced gum disease are at an increased risk of creating IL-6 (interleukin). IL-6 is a harmful protein produced by periodontitis. Patients with gum disease risk IL-6 spreading to their lungs, which can be life-threatening.
Patients with IL-6 levels above 80pg/ml were found to be 22 times more likely to suffer acute respiratory problems than those below 80pg/ml. In the USA, 80% of patients with respiratory failure placed on ventilators have died, which is why this study is so important for prevention.
What does this mean for the future?
Seniors or people with gingivitis should schedule an appointment with their dentist as soon as possible. Elderly patients are more likely to have gum disease, and researchers are hoping nursing homes will implement a dental screening protocol to assess risk. They are also hoping hospitals will check patients for gum disease.
How Can You Prevent Gum Disease?
The first step in having healthy gums is to floss and brush twice daily, and use a mouth rinse. Mouth rinses have been shown to eliminate food particles and debris, reduce plaque, and help prevent or reduce gingivitis. Using a mouth rinse like CTx3 Rinse will also ensure your mouth and gums stay healthy and lower your risk of cavities. Regular checkups to your dentist for a proper cleaning and screening is also important for good oral health. Reducing sugar intake and having a healthy diet are all ways you can improve your gums.
During these uncertain and stressful times, health concerns can be overwhelming. Knowing that we can improve our risk of respiratory failure by picking up our toothbrush and visiting the dentist is a positive step forward. There is power in knowledge, and this is especially hopeful for those who are older and vulnerable. Taking care of our oral health is ultimately taking care of ourselves, period. As we continue to wash our hands and wear our masks, don’t forget the daily routines such as brushing our teeth that continue to help protect us. Stay safe and protect your gums.