How Can COVID-19 Affect Your Oral Health (and Vice Versa)?
One message we always try to get across at SUNSTAR GUM® is that your oral health is simply part of your overall health.
The mouth does not exist on its own as a separate and disconnected ecosystem. It has complex relationships with the rest of the body, helping explain the numerous links and implications between oral health and systemic health issues.
Of course, the most prominent worldwide health crisis of our current time is COVID-19, a global pandemic that has disrupted lives in profound and unprecedented ways. Since first emerging in early 2020, COVID-19 has killed more than 5 million people around the world while surfacing a range of health issues and concerns for many more millions.
Unsurprisingly, some of those issues and concerns relate to oral health.
Oral health and COVID-19: what to know
COVID-19 is a contagious disease caused by a coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2 (the SARS stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, and describes the nature of the illness at a high level).
You might be thinking, “If it’s a virus primarily affecting the lungs, what does that have to do with my teeth?” But as we’ve established, oral health is impacted by things happening all around the body, especially an illness like COVID-19, which – even in its milder forms – can take a fairly significant toll.
We’re still learning about the true extent of the relationship between COVID-19 and oral health, but here are a few things that have been studied and are worth knowing.
People with gum disease are at greater risk of severe health outcomes from COVID-19.
A study conducted last year by Marouf et al., published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology found that people with advanced gum disease are far more likely to suffer complications from a bout with COVID-19, including ICU admission, need for ventilator assistance, and death.
This relationship, like many systemic links between gum disease and health issues, relates to the body’s inflammatory response, which is a core characteristic of both periodontitis and COVID-19.
This might sound scary, but it’s good news if you look at it from the reverse angle: maintaining good oral health habits and taking excellent care of your teeth and gums will reduce your risks of dire outcomes from the virus.
“This is the latest of many studies that form a connection between the mouth and other health conditions,” said Dr. Nigel Carter OBE, Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation. “The evidence here seems overwhelming – by maintaining good oral health, specifically healthy gums – you are able to limit your chances of developing the most serious complications of coronavirus.”
Many people have delayed visits to the dentist during the COVID-19 outbreak.
A survey conducted by the American Association of Endodontists in 2021 found that more than half of patients reported putting off routine dental visits due to the pandemic. Sound familiar?
Many of us have altered our habits and minimized personal contact in order to protect ourselves and others from this highly contagious virus, which shows no signs of dissipating as new variants continue to arise. Non-essential trips to the dentist or doctor were discouraged for a long time, and that remains the case in some areas.
But make no mistake: regular visits to the dentist are important. The findings above only underscore how vital it is to receive professional assessments and care, so you can quickly spot and address signs of gum disease or other concerns in their earliest stages.
If you haven’t been to see your dentist since before the pandemic started, now might be the time to consider making an appointment. Some practices offer remote visits, so you can talk through any issues you might be experiencing with your dentist without the need for an in-person visit.
Rest assured, your dental office is taking extensive measures to keep everyone safe. Authorities have issued robust official guidance to aid these efforts.
You can make small changes to your dental routine to stay extra safe and healthy as the pandemic persists.
The biggest takeaway from learning about oral health and COVID-19 is that it’s all the more urgent to focus on proactively keeping your teeth and gums healthy. As we’ve seen, this can have a material effect on your prognosis in the event of contracting COVID-19. Adhering to a strong and consistent oral care ritual at home can also help offset the impacts of missed visits to the dentist.
Beyond a recommitment to excellent care at home, there are a few other adjustments and precautions you can make within this routine to stay safe.
Learn more in our guide to Oral Health During the Coronavirus Pandemic.
Protect your mouth, protect your body
The unfortunate reality is that most people around the world have some form of gum disease. Oral health implications of COVID-19 and a broad trend of reduced professional intervention means we all need to raise our awareness and dial into our dental routines. Doing so will help you stay safe and healthy as we continue to navigate this global event.