Keep flossing: A study just out suggests gum disease can increase your odds for severe COVID-19.
Previous research showed that it's blood vessels, rather than airways, that are affected initially in COVID lung disease. Now, new research finds that high concentrations of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in saliva and gum disease (periodontitis) are linked with an increased risk of death from COVID.
This current study reports that SARS-CoV-2 can get into the lungs through saliva, with the virus moving straight from the mouth to the bloodstream, particularly in people with diseased gums.
"This model may help us understand why some individuals develop COVID-19 lung disease and others do not," said study co-author Dr. Iain Chapple, a professor of periodontology at the University of Birmingham in England. "It could also change the way we manage the virus -- exploring cheap or even free treatments targeted at the mouth and, ultimately, saving lives."
As the virus reaches the bloodstream, it can then travel through neck and chest veins to reach the heart before being pumped into blood vessels of the lungs, according to the researchers.
Dental plaque accumulation and gum inflammation further increase the likelihood of SARS-CoV-2 reaching the lungs and causing more severe infection, researchers said.
Chapple explained that gum disease makes the gums "leakier," allowing microorganisms to enter the blood. Careful brushing and flossing to reduce plaque buildup, as well as specific mouthwashes or even salt-water rinses could help lower concentration of the virus in saliva, he said.
These steps could "help mitigate the development of lung disease and reduce the risk of deterioration to severe COVID-19," Chapple said in a university news release.
The findings were published April 20 in the Journal of Oral Medicine and Dental Research.
The authors noted there is emerging evidence that certain ingredients in some inexpensive and widely available mouthwashes are highly effective at inactivating the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
"Studies are urgently required to further investigate this new model, but in the meantime daily oral hygiene and plaque control will not only improve oral health and well-being, but could also be lifesaving in the context of the pandemic," Chapple said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on oral health and COVID-19.
SOURCE: University of Birmingham, news release, April 20, 2021