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Posted on February 22, 2021
New research out of Europe indicates that active gum disease may worsen outcomes for patients infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. The Journal of Clinical Periodontology, which is the official publication of the European Federation of Periodontology, published their findings back at the beginning of February. While the sample size was small (only 568 patients), the findings are so compelling we wanted to share them with you!
This part might be for the hardcore research modality nerds out there, so feel free to skip to the next section if you want to get to the good stuff.
The study, conducted in Qatar, drew from nationwide electronic health records. This case-control study included 568 individuals, 258 of whom had gum disease. Patients were diagnosed with COVID-19 between February and July of 2020. Researchers also collected information on other factors such as BMI, smoking, and histories of other conditions like asthma, diabetes, and heart disease.
For more about this study, you can check out this article.
After adjusting for age, sex, comorbidities, BMI, etc., the study isolated for the variable of gum disease. Researchers conclude that patients with gum disease (versus those with healthy gums) were 3.5 times more likely to be admitted into intensive care, 4.5 times more likely to need a ventilator, and nearly 9 times more likely to die due to COVID.
We’ve posted several articles on the links between gum health and overall wellness. So, while these findings may seem surprising at first glance, they make total sense in the body of knowledge we have about how gum disease can affect other systems.
Basically, periodontal disease increases inflammatory markers in your blood. These include cytokines, c-reactive proteins, and a host of other substances that can spread inflammation from your gums to other parts of your body. One of the biggest problems with COVID-19 has been that the novel coronavirus triggers a cytokine storm. Basically, a ridiculously strong inflammatory reaction. I’m sure you can see where this is going. If you’ve already got increased cytokines and inflammatory substances in your body because of chronic gum disease, it’s likely that COVID will kick those factors way above the limit the body can handle. Hence, it stands to reason that gum disease may worsen COVID outcomes.
In addition, we have years of knowledge about ventilator-associated pneumonias. This means that if someone with gum disease catches COVID, they are more likely to end up on a ventilator. And if someone with gum disease goes on a ventilator, we already know they are far more likely to develop pneumonia. This has a lot to do with periodontal pathogens being carried into the lungs by the ventilator itself. While hospitals have protocols in place to help prevent this from happening, healthy gums are the best defense.
This may seem like a very gloom-and-doom study. But there is good news here. Gum disease is easy to prevent and very treatable in most cases. I’m sure, if you read this blog regularly, you already know what to do. But let’s review:
And that’s pretty much it! Not so bad, right? Brush, floss, get your cleanings on a regular basis. If you have active periodontal disease, now is the time to commit to treatment. Vaccines are coming and we are so ready for the COVID risk level to drop. In the meantime, these are some very easy steps you can take to help protect yourself and your family from severe COVID outcomes. Keep smiling, Orlando!
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