Could Gum Disease Increase Your COVID-19 Risk?

Few diseases have provoked as much anxiety in recent times as COVID-19. Many of us continue to do everything we can to avoid catching it, from wearing masks and washing our hands often to following social distancing guidelines and being vaccinated. Some experts, however, believe there’s one more protective strategy that’s been overlooked: keeping our gums healthy.

An international team of researchers theorizes that SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that can lead to COVID-19) isn’t inhaled into the lungs. Instead, after entering the mouth, it may infiltrate the mouth’s blood vessels through breaks in the gums’ protective layers caused by gum disease or trauma. From there, the virus could travel to the chest via the neck veins, and then get pumped by the heart into the pulmonary arteries, ending up in the lungs.

These researchers noticed that lung disease develops at the bottom of the lungs in COVID-19 patients instead of in the areas higher up, which is typical of infections caused by breathing a virus in.

Though the theory requires more investigation, it might help explain why COVID-19 seems to attack patients’ lungs more than other organs. Once the virus reaches the blood vessels in the lungs, it interacts with their linings, making them grow inflamed, become narrow and clot. This response helps keep the virus confined to the lungs.

Gums play an important role
The lining of the mouth is constantly exposed to the environment, and the gums are the barriers that stop substances from the outside world from entering the body. The researchers suggest that proper gum care should be urgently investigated as a way to help prevent people from contracting COVID-19. The researchers also propose studying whether regular use of certain mouthwashes known to inactivate the virus may be useful as well.

“The jury is still out on this theory—the exact mechanism of COVID-19 infection remains unknown, as are so many things about the virus,” says Roseanna P. Noordhoek, DDS, an oral surgeon at Center for Oral Surgery and Dental Implants. “For now, though, the smart money is on taking good care of your gums through good oral hygiene and regular visits to your dentist.”