The Specialist

A healthy mouth can prevent COVID-19 and other infections

Periodontal disease can make COVID-19 infections deadlier.

Evidence-based studies determine that the COVID-19 virus infection is exacerbated by several pre-existing medical illnesses. Also, dental infections like periodontal disease contribute to a more serious COVID-19 infection.

In this issue, we will discuss the role of periodontal disease (gum disease) and its linkages to other complications, namely the COVID-19 infection.

Gum disease is one of several chronic infections that weakens your immune system and places great stress on your body’s ability to prevent infections. The bacteria associated with the disease creates a super-infection with the release of toxins that travel through your blood stream causing damage to your lungs, blood vessels, heart valves, brain vessels and kidneys. These infections adversely affect your overall health.

We know that people with several comorbidities are more susceptible to serious health challenges like pneumonia and death. This is because the body depends on a strong immune system to combat the onslaught of the virus. If our immune system is not strong enough, the body cannot defend itself from more damaging infections.

Gum disease is one of the most common chronic diseases in the world. Gum disease is primarily caused by the neglect of not brushing or flossing, non-compliance with dental visits, genetics and lack of diagnosis and treatment by a dentist. It affects the supporting structures of the teeth such as the gum tissue and the bones surrounding the teeth. Gum disease has also been linked to other breathing ailments, including pneumonia and chronic pulmonary disease (COPD). The inflammatory toxins affecting the lungs oftentimes rob patients of the ability to breathe properly.

Hospitalized COVID-19 patients with gum disease were found to be 22 times more likely to suffer from acute respiratory problems and placed on a ventilator compared to patients with lower IL-6 (interleukin) levels.

Your body’s response to a bacterial infection in the gums is by way of inflammation. This process causes a storm of protein products released by the body in an effort to stop the infection. These proteins along with bacterial toxins create a violent immune response that destroys tissues elsewhere in the body. These inflammatory products enter the blood stream through ulcerated and infected “pockets” in the gums.

A study published this year in the Journal of California Dental Association suggests that hospitalized coronavirus patients with prior history of gum disease may be at higher risk for respiratory failure. It continues that the symptoms of gum disease, such as bleeding, deep pockets and bone loss lead to more severe COVID-19 complications. When measured, they found higher levels of inflammatory products (IL-6 or interleukin) and bad bacteria circulating in the blood, therefore having more potential to damage the lungs. We know that damage to the lungs can lead to respiratory failure, requiring hospitalization and ventilation.

Finally, several other systemic diseases are affected by the presence of gum disease:

• Heart attacks and strokes

• Pulmonary disease

• Pregnancy with pre-term delivery of babies with low birth weight

• Alzheimer’s disease

We all are susceptible to gum diseases, especially those who are undiagnosed, persons over the age of 50, persons who have a genetic predisposition and persons with diabetes and other chronic illnesses.

Prevention is important with gum disease and other chronic medical conditions. It is recommended to brush and floss daily. Visit your dentist to be screened and have professional cleanings at least every six months. Those who suffer from more involved gum disease should see a periodontist.

Treating oral disease is a first step in preventing infections like COVID-19 and other medical illnesses. An added advantage is it strengthens your immune system for when you need it most.

Patients should not delay much needed dental treatment because of a fear of contracting COVID-19. This fear of procrastination is likely to become more damaging to your immune system and actually worsen your overall health.

• Dr. Kendal V.O. Major is the founder and CEO of the Center for Specialized Dentistry, which is a comprehensive family dental practice operating in New Providence and Grand Bahama. He is the first Bahamian specialist in gum diseases and dental implants since 1989. He is also a certified fast braces provider. His practice is located at 89 Collins Avenue, New Providence. He can be contacted at (242) 325-5165 or kmajorcsd@gmail.com. 

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