MADRID, Spain — It’s no secret that patients have been scared to enter the dentist’s office during COVID-19 due to all the tiny particles that can fly through the air. For people with gum issues however, getting a cleaning could actually save their lives. A new study finds patients with gum disease who contract COVID-19 are an alarming nine times more likely to die.
An international team finds COVID patients are three times more likely to end up in intensive care or on a ventilator if they already suffer from periodontitis, a serious form of gum disease. Around half the world’s population over 30 years-old suffers from periodontitis. Gum disease causes swelling and bleeding in and around the gums which line the teeth.
If not treated properly, the inflammation can spread throughout the body and even infect the lungs. Coronavirus patients on ventilators could be particularly vulnerable as they are more likely to inhale oral bacteria, scientists say.
“The results of the study suggest that the inflammation in the oral cavity may open the door to the coronavirus becoming more violent,” study co-author Professor Lior Shapira of the Hebrew University says in a media release. “Oral care should be part of the health recommendations to reduce the risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes.”
Not treating gum disease can be a fatal mistake
Researchers examined electronic health records from 568 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 between February and July 2020 during the study. Of these, 40 suffered complications, meaning they ended up in intensive care, on a ventilator, or died. The team then analyzed information on whether the patients suffered from gum disease. Other factors including BMI (body mass index), asthma, heart disease, diabetes, blood pressure, and smoking were also taken into account.
The results reveal the chances of death for COVID patients with gum disease is 8.81 times higher than others. Likewise, the chances of ending up in intensive care or on a ventilator is 3.54 and 4.57 times greater, respectively.
Prof. Shapira adds that if researchers can establish a causal link between periodontitis and increased rates of adverse outcomes in COVID-19 patients, “then establishing and maintaining periodontal health may become an important part of the care of these patients.”
Overall, patients with gum disease are 3.67 times more likely to suffer from COVID complications, according to the new findings.
“This may contribute to the deterioration of patients with COVID-19 and raise the risk of death,” study co-author Professor Mariano Sanz of Complutense University in Madrid says. “Hospital staff should identify COVID-19 patients with periodontitis and use oral antiseptics to reduce transmission of bacteria.”
How can people avoid poor gum health?
In the past, gum disease has been associated with other lung conditions including asthma, pneumonia, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Dental experts note that gum disease can be prevented by maintaining good dental hygiene and following a healthy diet. On top of brushing your teeth more than once a day, special mouth washes or toothpastes can help reduce inflammation. Exercise and not smoking are important when it comes to keeping your mouth germ-free as well.
“This study highlights another association between gum disease and our systemic health and reiterates the need for ongoing, lifelong dental care for people susceptible to gum disease and a strong preventive approach to periodontitis for populations as a whole,” Professor Nicola West from the University of Bristol says in a statement to SWNS.
The findings appear in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology.
SWNS reporter Tom Campbell contributed to this report.