I’m sure I’m not the only one this year who weighs my every action in life against the risk of getting COVID. I feel like every decision I make is based on which is more likely to cause me to die, the activity I might miss, or the chance of me getting COVID. Therefore, getting my yearly mammogram screening was a necessary evil and worth the risk of COVID. But, I have not seen the inside of a salon since last March, hence my nails and hair are scary. Everyone has their own pros and cons, but I thought I would share some research as to why the dentist should be on everyone’s necessary risk list. It is particularly important for people over the age of 30!

One of the latest discoveries in this terrible disease is the effect of gum disease on COVID patients. In a 3 month study, hospitalized COVID patients with high levels of IL-6, which is a protein produced by gum disease, were at significantly higher risk of suffering life threatening respiratory problems. Since previous research has shown that IL6 is linked to other breathing problems such as pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, when researchers first began trying to figure out COVID, they looked to proteins that they already knew were linked to breathing problems. In Germany, they found that patients who were unable to breathe due to COVID tested positive for IL6. The doctors were shocked that this tiny inflammatory protein could rob people of their ability to breathe. Further research showed that patients with COVID and gum problems and hence higher IL6 levels, are 22 times more likely to suffer from acute respiratory problems and be placed on a ventilator. Of the COVID patients placed on a ventilator, almost 80% have died.

The researchers stress that their findings indicate a need for people who believe they may have gingivitis or more serious gum disease to get their teeth and gums checked and cleaned as soon as possible. Researchers are even urging doctors who screen COVID patients to take a moment with each patient and check them for gum disease, a diagnosis that would prompt them to be extra vigilant over watching the patient’s breathing. Because, while we can’t stop COVID, we may now know something that can reduce its severity. Since gum disease is the most under diagnosed problem in dentistry, the researchers are urging everyone who thinks it may even be a possibility to get tested and treated as soon as possible because its link to COVID is real and deadly.

The CDC now predicts the virus will be the leading cause of death in the United States and since we have now confirmed that gum disease makes it even deadlier, it is imperative that if you’re worried that you may have any gum problems, your next trip to the dentist may actually change your life. Since the CDC states that in the US, 47.2% of adults over the age of 30 have some form of gum disease, if I wasn’t already a dentist, a trip to the dentist would be the first thing on my list of, “definitely worth the risk.”

Ariana Clayton, DMD