If you don’t floss regularly, this might persuade you to change your behavior.
Patients with gum disease are more likely to experience severe, potentially life-threatening complications if they contract COVID-19 and need to be hospitalized, according to a new report published online in the Journal of the California Dental Association.
Chronic gum disease, or periodontitis, is characterized by swollen, bleeding gums, and bone loss. It produces bacteria that releaseGum a harmful protein known as IL-6 (interleukin-6). IL-6 is an inflammatory cytokine that can trigger the out-of-control reaction of the immune system known as a cytokine storm.
The report referenced the findings of a German study of 40 hospitalized COVID-19 patients published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in May. It concluded that patients with elevated IL-6 levels were 22 times more likely to suffer respiratory failure and require mechanical ventilation.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, nearly 80% of patients placed on ventilators in the United States have died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Gum disease has been linked to other breathing ailments, including pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) so we weren’t surprised to find a link to respiratory problems with COVID-19,” said Dr. Shervin Molayem, a U.S. dental surgeon based in Los Angeles and founder of the UCLA Dental Research Journal, in a news release last week.
“What shocked us was the discovery of the protein’s devastating, life-threatening impact on patients once they’re hospitalized. One tiny, inflammatory protein robbed them of their ability to breathe,” he said.
Molayem and Dr. Carla Pontes, a scientist and health care researcher in South Africa, expanded upon the German study’s results for their Mouth-COVID Connection report. They noted that IL-6 can disrupt capillary blood gas exchange in the lungs, contributing to pulmonary failure.
The researchers hope the link between periodontitis and severe COVID-19 cases will compel nursing homes to screen residents for gum disease and elevated IL-6 levels. They also suggested that emergency room physicians check patients for gum disease, a diagnosis that could alert nursing staff to closely monitor a patient\’s breathing.
The findings are an important reminder that poor dental hygiene can have serious ramifications for one’s overall health. Frequent brushing and flossing are essential to prevent periodontal disease, including gingivitis, which is reversible.
Many people are putting off dentist appointments during the pandemic because of concerns about infection. Ironically, deferred checkups could put them at greater risk of a severe case of COVID-19 if they have gum disease.
If your gums are swollen and prone to bleeding, do yourself a favor — see your dentist.