Since the initial eruption of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, a large amount of research has been conducted by scientists, doctors, and researchers all around the world. The aim of this research was to better understand this novel coronavirus, how it affects individuals, and how to effectively treat it. Between January 1st, 2020 and June 30th, 2020, it was estimated that around 23,634 articles were published all focusing on COVID-19. By now, that number has surely grown immensely.
Out of all the research articles written about COVID-19, there are some that focus exclusively on the relationship between COVID-19 and oral health. One of these articles, “Could there be a link between oral hygiene and the severity of SARS-CoV-2 infections”, evaluates how poor oral hygiene can affect the severity of COVID-19 infections. While the article asserts that more research is needed in this area, its data indicates that there very well may be a connection between poor oral hygiene and COVID-19 complications.
As past research has concluded, there is a definite link between oral and overall health. This link is based on the fact that the bacteria responsible for tooth decay and gum disease can affect other parts of the body if they migrate to other areas of the body. Although this doesn’t normally happen due to the mouth’s defenses, large amounts of oral bacteria can weaken the mouth’s defense system overtime. This eventually allows bacteria to enter the bloodstream and travel to other parts of the body. As a result, certain health conditions can develop such as: heart attack, stroke, endocarditis, pneumonia, respiratory problems, diabetes, clogged arteries, hypertension, or pregnancy complications such as low birth weight and preeclampsia.
Building off this established connection between oral and overall health, researchers looked into how high levels of oral bacteria could affect patients diagnosed with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Additionally, data obtained from the 1918 influenza pandemic suggested a possible link between respiratory viral infections and bacterial superinfections, which would further postulate a possible relationship between oral bacteria and COVID-19 complications.
Currently, it is believed that bacteria can enter the lungs by either inhaling microorganisms or by the aspiration of oral secretions containing bacteria. This means that the bacteria in saliva can travel on airborne particles and, like the SARS-CoV-2 virus, they can be inhaled into the lungs. As the article states, “…inadequate oral hygiene can increase the risk of inter-bacterial exchanges between the lungs and the mouth, increasing the risk of respiratory infections and potentially post-viral bacterial complications”.
When researchers evaluated patients diagnosed with COVID-19, then found that more severe cases were generally accompanied by bacterial infections. In fact, about 80% of COVID-19 patients in the ICU were found to have secondary bacterial infections, and about 50% of people who died from COVID-19 were found to also have secondary bacterial infections. Not only that, but comorbidities of COVID-19, such as heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes, are also associated with high levels of oral bacteria. In fact, the article notes that, “patients with periodontal disease are at a 25% increased risk of cardiovascular disease, triple the risk of diabetes mellitus, and a 20% increased risk of hypertension”. Ultimately, people with comorbid conditions, some that may or may not be caused by oral bacteria, are more likely to experience complications from the virus.
The article concludes by stating that while there certainly is a possibility that poor oral hygiene and the severity of COVID-19 infections are related, more research is needed in this area to confirm a clear connection. However, the article does recommend practicing good oral hygiene as an attempt to regulate oral bacterial levels in order to decrease the risk of potential COVID-19 complications. With this, it is recommended to brush twice a day for two minutes at a time and to floss daily. It is also advisable to see your dentist for a dental cleaning to remove plaque and bacteria from areas you may miss during your daily routine. Not only will good oral hygiene help maintain your oral health, but it may even prevent you from suffering complications from SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Dr. Sadati possesses extensive experience in all aspects of advanced restorative dentistry, with an emphasis in cosmetic and implant dentistry. He has attained Accredited Fellow status in the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD), the most rigorous, demanding credentialing process in the world. He is the only AACD Accredited Fellow in South Florida.