COVID-19 and Gum Disease – What You Need To Know

We knew very early in the pandemic timeline that patients with heart disease, diabetes, and compromised immune systems were at greatly elevated risk of COVID-19 complications.

As the months have gone on, we have learned a staggering amount of information regarding this disease. Recently, we have discovered a firm connection between COVID-19 and a common oral disease.

Periodontal disease, a common but advanced form of inflammatory gum disease, is directly related to respiratory complications due to COVID-19. This has been established in an article set to be published in the October issue of the Journal of the California Dental Association.

Here’s what you need to know about COVID-19 and gum disease.

It’s All About Inflammation

We have known for a long time that inflammation of the gums results in inflammation throughout the body. This greatly increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, COPD, type II diabetes, and even dementia.

The same is true for COVID-19 and gum disease.

Gum diseases like gingivitis and periodontal disease cause inflammation. That inflammation does not stay in the gums, but gets into the bloodstream and circulates throughout the body. This systemic inflammation also affects the lungs.

COVID-19 causes a quick, profound inflammatory reaction in the body. This surge of inflammation affects all major organ systems, most notably the heart and lungs.

Inflammation from both COVID-19 and gum disease has been shown to predictably lead to respiratory complications, often requiring intensive care and a ventilator to breathe.

How It Works

Cells in your body use protein messengers called cytokines to talk to each other. One particular cytokine, IL-6 (interleukin 6), is an inflammatory mediator that is responsible for many things, including respiratory complications.

Gum disease causes elevated levels of IL-6 in the body, including in the lungs. Then, the intense surge of IL-6 brought by COVID-19 causes a cytokine “storm”. This overwhelms the lungs with inflammation and leads to respiratory distress, and possibly failure.

Many studies of patients with periodontal disease show serum IL-6 levels between 0.25 pg/mL up to 216.3 pg/mL. This JCDA publication has found that serum levels of IL-6 at 80pg/mL or higher predictably causes greater respiratory distress in COVID-19 patients.

How Do I Know If I Have Gum Disease?

If your gums bleed easily when you brush or floss your teeth, you likely have some form of gum disease. The more advanced the gum disease, the more severe the inflammation in your body. Greater inflammation, greater risk.

Whether you have gingivitis or more advanced periodontal disease can only be determined with a proper dental exam.

Every new patient at Rathke Family Dentistry receives a thorough periodontal examination to determine the health status of the gums. Returning patients have the condition of the gums re-evaluated at every cleaning appointment.

What Should I Do?

First, patients should make dental appointments as soon as possible to be evaluated for gum disease.

Unfortunately, the economic shutdowns earlier in the year resulted in countless patients missing their regular visits to the dentist. It is imperative we get these patients back on track!

Next, the gums and teeth need to be properly cleaned. For many patients, this will be a regular cleaning to remove biofilm debris from around the teeth and gums. For patients with periodontal disease, this will involve a more involved “deep cleaning” to properly remove the larger amounts of tartar below the gums.

Jon Suzuki, a renowned periodontist and researcher, has demonstrated that professional removal of heavy biofilm debris from around the teeth and gums reduces risk of inflammatory disease within 24 hours!

Don’t Ignore The COVID-19 And Gum Disease Link

Don’t be afraid of seeing your dentist during the pandemic. Dental offices are taking extra infection control measures to keep you safe. To see how your next appointment with us will be different, click here.

Proper treatment of gum disease can do much more than reduce your risk of COVID-19 complications. It can also reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke. It can lower your risk of developing type II diabetes, or make diabetes easier to manage. With research, this list continues to grow.

Your next dental visit could very well save your life.


Image credit: Aug 7, 2020

Presentation by Drs. Molayem and Pontes:

Preview of study to be published by JCDA: Shervin Molayem, DDS, and Carla Cruvinel Pontes, DDS, MsC, PhD Molayem S, Pontes CC. The Mouth-COVID Connection: Il-6 Levels in Periodontal Disease — Potential Role in COVID-19-Related Respiratory Complications [published online ahead of print July 30, 2020]. J Calif Dent Assoc doi: 10.35481/jcda-48-10-01;

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