Since the start of the pandemic, researchers around the world have been investigating the role of the mouth, and its health, in COVID-19 infections. Symptoms such as taste loss, which we now know to be common, also point to the mouth’s involvement in COVID-19 infections. As more research is released, results suggest there’s more to say about the mouth’s influence on COVID-19 infection than initially thought.
Linking COVID-19 and Gum Disease
- The risk of severe Covid-19 illness seems to be the same as factors generally linked to cardiovascular disease – age, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and smoking. These are also linked to periodontitis, otherwise known as gum disease.
- Immune reactions called cytokine storms (excessive releases of inflammatory molecules by the immune system) are also known to occur in people with gum disease. Gum disease arises when too many bacteria accumulate in the mouth. This inflammatory response is actually what destroys the tissue that anchors teeth to the gums. Gum disease has been linked to other inflammatory conditions such as heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and arthritis.
Adjusting the data for these risk factors, researchers analysed the correlations between gum disease and COVID-19 complications. They found that:
- People with COVID-19 and gum disease were 3.5 times more likely to be admitted to an intensive care unit than were those without gum disease.
- They were also 4.5 times more likely to be put on a ventilator; and
- They were 8.8 times more likely to die.
COVID-19 in the Mouth
While the virus SARS-CoV-19 had been detected in the mouth in early 2020 it wasn’t until later research that they confirmed infected cells in the salivary glands, mucous membrane, and periodontal tissue. High levels of viral replication were found in certain cells in the salivary glands.
Confirming the mouth was susceptible to infection, 2 notable correlations were revealed:
- In a small group of people, higher levels of SARS-CoV-2 in saliva correlated with disruptions to patients’ sense of taste and smell.
- The virus can could be transmitted from the saliva of asymptomatic patients – people who show no symptoms of the disease.
Knowing that COVID-19 can be found in and transmitted via the mouth, we can continue to understand how the mouth reflects what is happening in the body and why oral hygiene is so important. Where risk factors such as diabetes and hypertension require medication and lifestyle changes to treat, gum disease can be managed with floss and a toothbrush.
“Of all the risks that have been associated with COVID, the easiest one to handle is this one. Basically, what we need to do is encourage people to take care of their oral health, and you know, there’s no harm in brushing and flossing your teeth.” – Faleh Tamimi, Dentistry Researcher
If you are feeling unwell or think you’ve contracted COVID-19 please follow local government guidelines and contact your health care provider. Stay safe!
Source: Summarized. For more detailed information and reference links, please read the Nature.com article: Investigating the mouth-COVID connection by Tien Nguyen