As the world continues to reopen, you might be thinking about the pleasure of eating indoors again. Or being able to go to the movies. Or attending an A’s or Giants game. Or simply getting together with friends and family face-to-face for the first time in a long time.
We would suggest you also add “seeing your dentist” to that list.
Even though dental offices have been able to operate through most of the pandemic, many people have hesitated – especially when it comes to the regular exams and cleanings that are an essential part of preventive care.
So it’s no surprise that dentists across the country have been reporting a strong uptick in patients needing fillings and other restorations, periodontal therapy, and more. Many folks admit to having slacked off on good oral health habits during the pandemic, too – while, according to one survey, 74% of Americans say they wish they’d taken better care of themselves.
The chronic stress of the past year-plus has played a part, too, of course, along with the effects of “mask mouth” – a slang term to describe the increased decay, gum inflammation, and bad breath that have accompanied increased mask-wearing, possibly due to dry mouth from mouth breathing under the mask. Poor posture from less than ideal work-from-home set-ups and a lack of restorative sleep have also contributed to tooth troubles.
The sooner you come to see us, the sooner we can help you get your oral health back on track.
And it’s certainly safe to do so. In fact, there hasn’t been a single documented case of a patient getting COVID from visiting the dentist. The risk of viral transmission in the dental office is likewise low for dentists and their staff. One study done in a hard-hit area of Italy during an early surge of the virus found that the risk was near zero when standard safety procedures were followed.
But there’s another benefit to keeping up with your regular dental visits, as well, besides preventing oral disease: Keeping your mouth healthy may also be protective against COVID.
Nearly all of the risk factors for severe COVID – obesity, diabetes, hypertension, age – are also risk factors for gum disease. More than a few researchers have suggested that gum disease may be considered a risk factor on its own. After all, a good body of research has already shown a relationship between periodontal health and respiratory conditions such as pneumonia – and, more,
that improved oral hygiene and frequent professional oral health care reduces the progression or occurrence of respiratory diseases, particularly in the elderly population and those in intensive care units.
Other studies have found that patients with advanced gum disease have a higher risk of COVID-related death.
Hospitalized COVID-19 patients with high levels of interleukin (IL-6), a harmful protein produced by periodontitis, were at significantly greater risk of suffering life-threatening respiratory problems during the three-month study.
The study was prompted by earlier research regarding hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Germany who were tested for IL6 while they were in critical condition and unable to breathe without the help of a ventilator.
According to the researchers, the study suggests that COVID-19 patients with bad gums face a much greater risk of generating harmful IL-6 proteins that spread to their lungs and trigger a life-threatening respiratory crisis.
“Gum disease has been linked to other breathing ailments, including pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, so we weren’t surprised to find a link to respiratory problems with COVID-19,” said researcher Shervin Molayem, DDS, a dental surgeon based on Los Angeles and founder of the UCLA Dental Research Journal.
Yet other research has likewise highlighted the link between poor oral health and COVID outcomes, owing to the fact that the mouth is an important point of entry for pathogens like SARS-CoV-2, which can then be inhaled into the respiratory tract.
It is common for respiratory viral infections to predispose patients to bacterial superinfections, leading to increased disease severity and mortality; for example, during the influenza pandemic in 1918, where the primary cause of death was not from the virus itself but from bacterial superinfections. The same was apparent in the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, where again bacterial superinfections were the primary cause of death as opposed to the virus itself.
So don’t let lingering fear of COVID keep you from the dental care you need and deserve. Rather, let it motivate you to keep your appointments, so you can do all you can to stay strong and resilient through the end of this pandemic.