COVID 19 and Gums
As additional information is gathered about the effects of COVID-19, it appears that multiple complications and medical conditions can occur in those infected by the virus. Data from one recent study indicates that periodontal disease is one such complication that arises from severe COVID infection. In order to better understand the relationship between COVID-19 infection and periodontal disease, understanding how gum disease and other complications are linked is important.
Periodontal Disease Overview
Periodontal (gum) disease impacts the structures that support the teeth including the gums and jawbone. It is a common condition that is estimated to affect roughly 90% of the population. Whereas tooth decay creates holes in the teeth, gum disease creates holes in the bones that support the tooth roots.
Periodontal disease is primarily caused by poor oral hygiene and the accumulation of bacterial plaque around the teeth and gums. By failing to properly floss and brush daily, the plaque thrives and damages the oral structures.
In response to the bacterial gum infection, the body responds with inflammation. During this process, the body releases certain proteins that can lead to an excessive inflammatory response that can damage tissues elsewhere in the body. If those inflammatory products enter the blood stream through infected gum pockets, they can travel to other organs and cause damage.
Periodontal Disease and COVID-19
A study published in the October 2020 Journal of the California Dental Association indicates that patients with underlying gum disease who were hospitalized for COVID-19, may be at a higher risk of respiratory failure. The study also showed that COVID complications were more severe in patients suffering from chronic periodontitis symptoms, such as bone loss. This is thought to be attributed to an increase in inflammatory products circulating throughout the body and increasing the potential for lung damage. If the lung become damaged, respiratory failure can occur and hospitalized COVID-19 patients, may require a ventilator.
Although research is still in its early stages, there is an established correlation between periodontal health and overall health. There is also mounting data pointing to a link between gum disease and other health complications. For example, scientific data has shown that diabetic patients are at a higher risk of developing gum disease. The less controlled a person’s diabetes, the more susceptible they are to infection. This correlation between periodontal disease and diabetes is known as “bi-directional” in that both conditional influence each other. Because of this, periodontal disease not only occurs in those with uncontrolled diabetes at higher rate, but the resulting inflammation from the periodontal disease also makes controlling the diabetes more difficult.
Research has shown correlations between periodontal disease and other systemic diseases or conditions, such as:
- Cardiovascular (heart) disease
- Pulmonary (lung) disease
- Kidney and pancreatic cancers
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Vitamin deficiencies
Although anyone can be susceptible to gum disease, there are certain populations that are higher risk. For example, those over 65 years of age, as well as Hispanic and African American populations, have higher rates of periodontitis. Preventing gum disease is vital so ensuring a thorough daily oral hygiene routine is practiced, is critical for everyone regardless of their COVID infection status.