Could there be a link between oral hygiene and the severity of Covid 19 infections?
Researchers have already discovered several factors that may increase the severity of COVID 19 infections. These are obesity, diabetes, chronic lung disease, high blood pressure, and heart disease. However, a new study that was published in the British Dental Journal examines the link between a patient’s oral health and the progression of SARS-CoV-2 infections.
In this study, researchers were wondering why 52 percent of those who have died from COVID 19 had none of the known risk factors that had previously been identified. What these researchers discovered was that a large portion of patients who had died had an increased bacterial load or the measurable amount of bacteria within the body. Many coronavirus deaths have been attributed to secondary bacterial infections, such as pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and sepsis.
In the cover letter for the mentioned study, one of the authors noted that many patients had large amounts of bacteria that are associated with the oral cavity. This author also requested that oral health be added as a risk factor for severe infection from SARS-CoV-2.
For those who have had periodontal issues in the past, their dentist most likely noted the importance of gum health during a daily oral care routine. Gingivitis is the first stage of periodontal disease that can eventually work its way beneath the gums. If the gums bleed, bacteria that cause periodontal infection can make their way into the bloodstream, potentially causing infections in other areas of the body.
Additionally, saliva is often aspirated during coughing episodes of respiratory patients. After a cough, there is a deeper inhalation as the patient’s body attempts to repel whatever is irritating the lungs. Any bacteria present in the saliva will then make its way into the lungs as well. This can increase the risk of pneumonia and other secondary bacterial infections of the lungs, further jeopardizing a patient who already has COVID 19.
Another study that was published in Biomedical Journal describes the possible correlation as well. The authors of this study note that patients with existing periodontal disease that is untreated by a dentist are more likely to develop hospital-acquired pneumonia than someone who has good oral hygiene. In addition to the other bacteria that reside in the mouth, specific respiratory pathogens, including those that can cause pneumonia, are present as well.
Another concern with SARS-CoV-2 is that it has the ability to overwhelm the immune system. This makes it harder for patients to fight off additional infections, such as those caused by bacteria, while they are coping with the coronavirus infection. Any bacteria from the mouth that finds its way into the lungs or the bloodstream have a better chance of proliferating because the body cannot handle the load.
Finally, poor oral hygiene has been associated with the development of the stated risk factors that increase the severity of coronavirus disease. By improving oral hygiene, especially during a SARS-CoV-2 infection, patients may be able to reduce the chances of developing a secondary bacterial infection, thus increasing their chances for survival.
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