The Specialist

A healthy mouth helps prevent COVID-19 and other infections

Patients who suffer from active periodontal disease (gum disease) can make COVID-19 infections deadlier. Recent studies have determined that the COVID-19 virus is worsened by several pre-existing medical illnesses.

In this column, I address the role of periodontal disease and its linkages to other complications – namely, COVID-19.

Gum disease is one of several chronic infections that weakens your immune system and places greater 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, arteries, placenta, brain vessels and kidneys. These infections adversely affect your overall health.

We know that persons 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 personal neglect, 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. Also, gum disease has been linked to other breathing ailments, including pneumonia and chronic obstructive 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 inflammatory proteins.

Your body’s response to a bacterial infection in the gums is by way of inflammation. This process causes a storm of enzymes to be released by the body 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 and bad bacteria circulating in the blood. This process usually damages the lungs, leading to respiratory failure, hospitalization and the need for ventilation.

Several other systemic diseases are affected by the presence of gum disease. They include heart attacks and strokes, pulmonary disease, pregnancy with pre-term delivery of babies with low birth weight, and Alzheimer’s disease.

We all are susceptible to gum disease, 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 are largely affected by gum disease.

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 advanced gum disease should see a periodontist.

Treating oral disease is a first step in preventing infections like COVID-19 and other medical conditions. An added advantage is to strengthen your immune system and improve 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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