Dentists in Airdrie are trying to get the word out about a recent study that found a correlation between gum disease and severe outcomes associated with COVID-19.
The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Periodentology earlier this year. The research concluded that periodontitis – the most severe form of gum disease – is linked with severe COVID-related complications, including death, intensive care submissions and the need for assisted ventilation.
“It is well-established that systemic inflammation is not only linked with periodontal disease, but to several other respiratory diseases as well,” said Dr. James G. Wilson, president of the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP), in a statement on the academy’s website about the study.
“Therefore, maintaining healthy teeth and gums in an effort to avoid developing or worsening periodontal disease is absolutely crucial in the midst of a global pandemic like COVID-19, which is also known to trigger an inflammatory response.”
According to the AAP, the study was conducted using national health records from the State of Qatar between February and July 2020. Of the 568 patients studied, the researchers found that patients with periodontitis were at least three times more likely to suffer severe complications if they contracted COVID-19.
Dr. Amrita Sandhu, a local dentist and the owner of South Airdrie Smiles, said the study’s findings were not surprising to oral health professionals.
Now, she said dentists at her and other clinics around Airdrie are citing the research as yet another reason to be cognizant of proper oral health and hygiene.
“For us in the dental community, we’re constantly trying to get our patients to understand that oral health is linked to systemic health,” she said. “There tends to be a mindset that teeth are one issue and health is one issue and [oral health] has nothing to do with any other issue you might be having. Something we’re constantly trying to explain to our patients is that gum disease, if it’s chronic or long-standing, basically [gives you] an increased level of inflammation in your body.”
Gum disease is, according to Sandhu, unfortunately common. She said some research from the United States indicates as many as half of adults 18 to 30 years old suffer from the ailment.
And as the Journal of Clinical Periodentology's findings showed, the bacteria from gum disease can harm more than just your mouth, Sandhu said.
“Whatever bacteria is in your mouth, it’s going through your whole system,” she said. “When you have that going on and get something like COVID-19, which is a virus that enters your body, your body triggers an immune response. If you already have other risk factors and long-standing chronic inflammation…your body reacts and can have a more exacerbated outcome.”
Sandhu said the study highlights the importance of diligent oral health-care. She said the easiest way to avoid developing gum disease is to go for regular dental check-ups and scaling appointments, as dentists and dental hygienists are better able to identify the early stages of gum disease.
“When you come in for a hygiene appointment, yes, they’re cleaning your teeth, but they’re also measuring the periodontal pockets around your teeth, and those are indications of the health of your gums and bones,” she said.
She added dentists are able to provide a treatment plan for patients who are exhibiting gum disease. Treatment depends on severity, but she said the best way to treat gum disease is to remove the bacteria more frequently.
“For patients of ours that have severe levels of periodontal disease, we see those patients more frequently to have their teeth scaled, because a hygienist has the tools to get deep into those pockets where your toothbrush or water pick can’t reach,” she said.
However, she stressed that prevention of gum disease in the first place is the ideal way to approach it.
“All these things can connect to other health issues you may be experiencing, so we should make sure to take care of our oral health,” she said.