COVID-19: Dental Hygiene Can Mitigate the Development of Lung Disease

Eighty years ago, smoking was thought to be a healthful practice. Fifty years ago, my primary care physician smoked cigarettes during our regular office visits.

Fifty years ago, it was thought that gum disease affected less than 10% of the population. Today the world is starting to wake up to the fact that gum disease affects almost all people in different ways and with different severity. Gum disease has been shown to be a cofactor in many other diseases such as cancer.

New research is now pointing out that COVID-19 may pass into people’s lungs from saliva with the virus moving directly from mouth to bloodstream – especially if individuals are suffering from gum disease.

When COVID starts, it can apparently infect the oral cavity first and then from them infect the bloodstream pass into the lung vessels, as periodontal disease bacteria are a prime factor in pneumonia in long term care settings.

Evidence shows that blood vessels of the lungs are affected in COVID-19 lung disease and elevated concentrations of the virus in saliva and periodontitis are associated with increased risk of death.

New research proposes that dental plaque and periodontitis inflammation increase the chances of SARS-CoV-2 virus reaching the lungs and thereby causing more severe cases.

This research also demonstrates that oral healthcare can have lifesaving effects. Experts recommend that daily steps of maintaining oral hygiene and lowering plaque and bacterial buildup also reduce factors that contribute to COVID severity.

The article published in the Journal of Oral Medicine and Dental Research notes evidence that specific components of mouthwashes available in most drugstores are highly effective at inactivating COVID-19.

Regularly practiced brushing flossing and mouthwash use also lowers the risk of COVID transmission from the mouth to the lungs and prevents severe instances.

Dr Graham Lloyd-Jones, a radiologist, noted that lung CT scans in patients that did not develop lung disease compared that those that did develop symptoms which led to further investigation of this finding. A team of medical and dental researchers from Salisbury District Hospital, UK; the University of Birmingham, UK; and the Mouth-Body Research Institute, Los Angeles, California and Cape Town, South Africa reviewed cases and proposed that: “Gum disease makes the gums leakier, allowing microorganisms to enter into the blood. Simple measures – such as careful toothbrushing and interdental brushing to reduce plaque build-up, along with specific mouthwashes, or even saltwater rinsing to reduce gingival inflammation – could help decrease the virus’ concentration in saliva and help mitigate the development of lung disease and reduce the risk of deterioration to severe COVID-19.”

This research proposes that the mouth provides an environment for the virus to thrive, and any lowering of oral immune defenses makes it easier for the virus to enter the bloodstream in the mouth or lungs.

Further research is necessary to validate this theory, but common daily oral hygiene and control of oral bacteria can save many lives affected by COVID.

The COVID-19 Pathway: A Proposed Oral-Vascular-Pulmonary Route of SARS-CoV-2 Infection and the Importance of Oral Healthcare Measures - Graham Lloyd-Jones, Shervin Molayem, Carla Cruvinel Pontes and Iain Chapple is published in The Journal of Oral Medicine & Dental Research.