Research Has Shown a Significant Link Between Gum Disease and Severity of COVID-19 Effects.
A recent study has revealed a notable correlation between patients who are afflicted with periodontitis, and the likelihood of these patients developing a more serious case of COVID-19 if infected.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a tremendous impact on our lives, requiring many changes to our home and work routines as we all work together in order to stop the spread. To that end, as doctors and scientists continue to research the virus, more information is coming to light on the wide range of effects it can have and the various health factors that can influence the severity of infection if it does occur.
One such aspect that has recently been studied is the possible connection that oral health, specifically gum health, can have on the likelihood of experiencing a more severe case of COVID-19 if one becomes infected with the virus. Gum disease, also known as periodontitis, is a serious dental health condition that can have far-reaching effects on the overall health and well-being of a person in general, let alone when a viral pandemic is factored into the equation.
In order to understand the ways that gum disease can influence a case of COVID-19 infection, it’s important to first clarify the causes of gum disease and how this condition impacts the state of health of a patient.
What is Gum Disease / Periodontitis?
In simplest terms, gum disease is an infection of the gum tissue surrounding the teeth that can lead to loose teeth, bone loss, pain, bleeding gums, and even the total loss of teeth if left untreated. It’s a very common affliction, with up to 50% of mature adults worldwide experiencing some form of gum disease at some point in their lives. Periodontitis infections are caused by the build-up of bacteria around and underneath the gum line. This bacteria multiplies and begins to intrude deeper into the gum pockets, weakening and softening the gum tissue that is needed to hold the teeth firmly in place.
These types of infections are difficult for the body to fight off on its own, especially since more and more bacteria continue to be introduced as we eat and drink and go about our normal daily lives. If oral hygiene habits such as brushing and flossing are not performed regularly and with proper technique, and if professional dental hygiene appointments are infrequent or avoided, then the problem will persist and likely progress towards other types of dental health or general health issues. As periodontitis advances, the gums will recede away from the teeth exposing more of the tooth, even down to the root in some extreme cases.
How Does Gum Disease Increase the Risks Associated with COVID-19 Infection?
While the exact correlation between gum disease and COVID-19 risks is still being studied, initial findings show a significant link between the severity of a COVID-19 infection and the state of gum health in a patient.
In a case-control study published on Feb 1, 2021, entitled “Association between periodontitis and severity of COVID‐19 infection”, researchers observed much greater likelihood of patients with gum disease developing more intense infections from COVID-19. This study was conducted between February and July of 2020 using health records of over 560 patients from the State of Qatar.
The results of this study showed that patients with gum disease had a 3.5 times greater chance of requiring admittance to intensive care units, a 4.5 times greater chance of requiring a ventilator for assisted breathing, and a shocking 9 times greater chance of death from a COVID-19 infection.
Researchers suggest the possibility of the inflammation in the mouth from periodontitis leading to a more aggressive COVID-19 infection due to the weakened immune system state of the patient. As COVID-19 is also shown to produce an inflammatory response within the body, it is suspected that the combination of COVID-19 and periodontitis infections can create a set of conditions that exacerbate the inflammations to the point where they can be fatal.
Although the results of this study are still under review and other studies are in progress, it nevertheless stands to reason that a preventive approach to gum disease, as well as taking active steps to treat existing cases of periodontitis, would be strongly recommended as risk-mitigation strategies for the general population.
What Can I Do To Minimize My Chance of Developing Gum Disease?
Preventing gum disease is actually a very straightforward and simple process, and you’re likely already doing many of the things you need to do. Prevention essentially hinges on proper oral hygiene habits and maintaining your diligence with regular dentist visits. Brushing, flossing, and effective use of antibacterial mouth rinses on a regular basis are critical to your overall state of oral health, and significantly reduce the likelihood of developing gum disease.
In addition to keeping up with your at-home oral care routines, regular hygiene treatments at your dentist clinic are also essential in preventing gum disease. While your personal brushing and flossing routine is effective at minimizing the build-up of bacteria, there are still areas in the gums that can be difficult or impossible to clean by yourself using these methods. During each checkup, your dentist and hygienist will examine your teeth and gums for any signs of periodontitis, and perform a deep-clean to remove any built-up plaque and tartar that can’t be dealt with using at-home methods.
This is also your opportunity to speak with your dentist and hygienist about how you can improve your state of dental health, with the specific aim of preventing gum disease. They’ll be able to provide guidance and suggestions for changes to your oral care routine, as well as any clinical treatments they can offer to help you achieve your goals of stronger gums and a healthier mouth.
But what if you’re already dealing with a case of gum disease? Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken by your dentist to treat the condition and restore your mouth back to health.
How Are Existing Cases of Gum Disease Treated?
Treating gum disease always begins first and foremost with improved dental hygiene in order to help halt the progression and get the patient into a routine of effective oral cleaning habits that will help avoid a future recurrence of periodontitis. Your dentist will recommend a thorough cleaning and hygiene treatment in order to completely remove built-up bacteria, plaque and tartar from your teeth and gum pockets, as well as conduct a comprehensive examination to determine the extent of the infection.
Once your dentist has performed their examination and your state of dental health has been evaluated, a treatment plan will be developed for you. Depending on your unique condition, this could simply mean an increased frequency of dental office visits to perform deep-cleans more often and allow the body to heal naturally. However, if the case has progressed further to a more severe level of periodontitis, and the gums are showing extensive recession, other treatments may be needed.
Advanced periodontitis can be treated by repairing the gum tissue that has receded away from the teeth. This can be done using several different methods, such as manually massaging the gum tissue and gradually pushing it back into place. However, for worse cases of gum recession, a gum graft may be needed. In this procedure, a portion of healthy gum tissue is surgically placed on to the affected area and used to reinforce the surrounding tissue. Gum grafts can be a painful and involved process but, in some cases, they are necessary.
Another far more appealing option to treating periodontitis and gum recession is a procedure known as the Pinhole Surgical Technique (PST). This innovative method uses a tiny hole in the gum tissue into which specialized instruments are inserted in order to manipulate gum tissue back into place. The unique PST approach to treating gum recession is fast and minimally-intrusive, resulting in far greater comfort for the patient and rapid recovery times.
Minimize Your Risk & Take Positive Action Against Gum Disease Today
Quite simply, the best way to reduce your risks of gum disease is to take immediate positive action to improve the overall health of your mouth through comprehensive oral care habits and regular checkups with your dentist. This is the surest way to make sure you’re doing everything right in order to ward off the effects of gum disease.
If you have any questions, concerns, or wish to arrange your next appointment here at Georgian Dental, please contact us today. Our team of professionals is standing by to help you and your family with all your dental care needs.