With covid cases and hospitalizations rising around the country, many of us are doing all we can to prevent contracting the virus. Researchers are learning more and more about how we can protect ourselves from the virus and prevent poor outcomes like hospitalization. One of the most interesting findings suggests that our oral hygiene affects our risk of such outcomes.
Oral Hygiene and Covid-19
We recently explained a little bit about how gut health affects covid. The microbiome — or the bacterial environment in the gut — influences our immunity because gut bacteria plays a role in the development of white blood cells, and white blood cells help the immune system to fight off harmful, infectious pathogens.
Just like gut microbiome can influence our immunity, so can the oral microbiome, which refers to the bacterial environment in the mouth. At least, that’s what a team of British researchers are saying after having investigated the correlation between oral hygiene and covid-19 outcomes.
According to the review of studies, published in British Dentist Journal, 20 percent of the patients with covid-19 progress to severe illness (typically warranting hospitalization) with high levels of inflammatory markers. The oral microbial flora in the mouths of covid patients was explored in relation to covid-19 outcomes, paying close attention to those with poor oral hygiene or periodontal disease (or gum disease). The authors wrote, “We explore the connection between high bacterial load in the mouth and post-viral complications, and how improving oral health may reduce the risk of complications from COVID-19.”
According to the researchers, oral secretions of harmful bacteria in the mouth can make their way into the lungs, increasing the risk of lung infection. Within the populations of covid patients they analyzed, high bacterial load in the mouth correlated to severe lung complications like pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), and sepsis.
The researchers also carefully noted that those with gum disease are considered to have a 25 percent increased risk of heart disease, a 20 percent increased risk of having high blood pressure, and three times the risk of getting diabetes — all which are risk factors for severe covid-19.
The idea here is that the mouth, as the gateway into the body, provides an entry point for bacteria and germs to enter your respiratory system and blood stream. A healthy bacterial environment in the mouth can keep your immune system working properly, while the opposite can lead to disease and infection.
“Good oral hygiene has been recognized as a means to prevent airway infections in patients, especially in those over the age of 70,” the researchers wrote. “Oral hygiene [should] be maintained, if not improved, during a SARS-CoV-2 infection in order to reduce the bacterial load in the mouth and the potential risk of bacterial superinfection.”
In the end, it’s clear that good oral hygiene could help lessen the bacterial load in the mouth, decreasing your risk of lung infection and severe covid-19 outcomes. So brush your teeth at least twice a day, make sure you’re flossing regularly, and keep up with your dental appointments as best you can! Your immunity — and those pearly whites — will thank you!