COVID-19: How it Affects Oral Health

When you think of COVID-19 symptoms, what comes to mind? Probably a fever, dry cough and shortness of breath—perhaps loss of taste and smell. Yet an inability to enjoy the flavors of a savory bowl of pasta or your favorite dessert is not the only oral health problem people can experience with this virus. Below are other conditions that doctors and researchers have noticed are appearing with COVID-19.

Geographic tongue occurs when there’s a loss of papillae—tiny projections that are shaped like hairs—from the tongue’s surface. Those experiencing it develop red, smooth patches, as though a map has been spread out on their tongues. Some patients develop pain or burning, as well as sensitivity to certain foods.

Xerostomia, or dry mouth, is caused by insufficient production of saliva. Dry mouth can create a cascade of problems, from difficulty chewing and swallowing to hoarseness, sore throat, gum problems and more.

Oral candidiasis, also known as oral thrush, happens when a normal mouth fungus, called Candida albicans, becomes overgrown, forming white lesions on the tongue or the insides of the cheeks. Occasionally, it also may spread to the gums, roof of the mouth, tonsils or the back of the throat. In addition to the surrounding tissues turning bright red, patients might experience a sore or burning feeling that could interfere with eating or swallowing.

Herpes simplex virus (oral herpes) is less common, but still a problem for some patients with COVID-19. It can create painful sores on the lips or tongue or in the mouth.

Researchers have found that, in most cases, COVID-19 patients don’t start developing oral problems until about a week after they notice other symptoms, such as fever and a lack of energy. But in some cases, oral abnormalities may be the first—or even only—sign of the disease. If you’re experiencing any of the above issues, contact your dentist.