What You Need to Know About Oral Health and COVID-19
In March 2020, COVID-19 cases began to rise in the United States steadily.
To help stop the spread of COVID-19, the American Dental Association (ADA) – a well-trusted organization dentists use for information – issued a statement recommending all dentists postpone elective dental procedures and only provide emergency dentistry services.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) voiced the same message.
Since then, the ADA and CDC have issued new guidelines for dentists, allowing them to continue practicing all dental services safely.
ADA President, Chad P. Gehani, said:
“With appropriate PPE, dental care should continue to be delivered during global pandemics or other disaster situations.”
So, what’s the holdup? Why are patients still questioning whether or not to go to the dentist during COVID?
There’s a lack of information on the significance of oral health.
Many people believe they’ll be safer if they avoid the dentist during COVID.
But here’s what we know for a fact:
Your oral health is linked to your overall health.
And in this blog, we’ll prove COVID-19 is no exception.
Avoiding the dentist may worsen the effects of COVID-19
Let’s start with the basics.
Going to the dentist for routine exams and cleanings is essential.
Even with the best brushing and flossing routine, you still need a professional cleaning at least twice per year.
A dental cleaning by a registered dental hygienist safely removes any plaque build-up. If left untreated, plaque will continue to grow with harmful bacteria and turn into gum disease (periodontitis).
You also need regular exams so your dentist can examine your teeth, gums, bone, and nerves for any signs of dental problems.
If found early, your dentist can provide treatment to stop the problem and restore your oral health.
Avoiding the dentist will result in poor oral health.
What does that mean for the rest of your body?
How oral health and overall health are connected
- Gum disease (periodontitis) is linked to other health problems.
- Chronic inflammation from gum disease is linked to cardiovascular problems.
- Harmful oral bacteria can enter your bloodstream and spread through your body.
- Specific health problems lower your body’s resistance to infection, worsening oral health problems.
- Some medications reduce saliva flow, which is vital for washing away bacteria and neutralizing acids.
How does this relate to COVID-19?
Let’s get specific!
The connection between oral health and COVID-19
Ever since declaring the coronavirus as a global pandemic, countless research has been performed to understand this virus better, from how to stop the spread to what puts you more at risk.
Here are vital research and findings on the link between oral health and the coronavirus:
Periodontitis and COVID-19
Research… This text opens a new tab to an article on Dentistry Today… shows that COVID-19 patients with periodontitis are more at risk of dying.
A harmful, inflammatory protein called interleukin (IL-6) produced by periodontal disease.
According to a three-month study, COVID-19 patients with high levels of IL-6 were at a significantly greater risk of suffering life-threatening respiratory problems.
This doesn’t come as a big surprise to dentists, seeing as gum disease is linked to respiratory infections… This text opens a new tab to an article on healthy gums and lungs…, like pneumonia.
This study also reported:
Hospitalized COVID-19 patients with periodontitis IL-6 levels above 80 pg/ml are 22 times more likely to be placed on a ventilator.
And almost 80% of those who suffered respiratory failure and were placed on a ventilator in the United States died.
It’s also important to note:
The elderly generation is both more at risk for periodontitis and faces the highest threats from COVID-19.
So while you may believe it’s safer for you or your elderly loved one to avoid the dentist, it could be life-saving.
The good news is:
Periodontitis is preventable and treatable by visiting your dentist regularly and practicing good at-home hygiene.
Poor oral hygiene and COVID-19
This study… This text opens a new tab to the official research… shows poor oral hygiene increases the severity of COVID-19.
Short reason: A high bacterial load in the mouth.
Poor oral hygiene leads to plaque build-up, decay (cavities), and gum disease.
What do all these have in common?
Found in saliva, these bacteria lead to the formation of cytokines.
This becomes problematic because there’s a risk of aspirating the oral secretions (saliva) into the lungs and causing or aggravating an infection.
“Inadequate oral hygiene can increase the risk of inter-bacterial exchanges between the lungs and the mouth, increasing the risk of respiratory infections and potentially post-viral bacterial complications.”
They also recommend oral hygiene be maintained or improved during a COVID infection to reduce the bacterial amount in the mouth and potential risk of bacterial superinfection.
Why is this important?
Bacterial superinfections are common in patients suffering from a severe case of COVID.
Over 80% of COVID-19 patients in the ICU showed exceptionally high bacterial load, with 50% of deaths exhibiting bacterial superinfections.
Not to mention:
The primary complications of COVID-19 – blood clots, pneumonia, sepsis, septic shock, and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) – are mainly among those patients with comorbidities and bacterial overload.
The key takeaway about oral health
Poor oral health leads to high bacteria, which can cause or aggravate infections and potentially lead to post-viral bacterial complications, like pneumonia.
Common questions about oral health and COVID-19
Question: What types of dental procedures are considered an emergency during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Answer: Here’s a general overview of what the ADA deemed as a dental emergency… This text opens a new tab to the ADA PDF on dental emergencies… during the shutdown:
- Severe dental pain or swelling
- Abscess or bacterial infection
- Dental trauma, such as a tooth fracture or knocked-out tooth
- Dental treatment required prior to critical medical procedures
- Replacing dental restorations that are damaged, lost, or causing pain
- Extensive dental caries (cavities)
However, now that dentists are back up and running, we recommend contacting your dentist if you notice anything unusual – whether that’s pain, sensitivity, a wiggly tooth, etc.
Time is of the essence with dental emergencies. The longer you avoid the dentist, the more likely your dental problem will worsen.
Question: Should I go to the doctor or dentist for non-urgent appointments during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Answer: For anything dental-related, you should always go to a dentist.
Even in an emergency or pandemic!
Most hospitals, emergency rooms, and walk-in clinics don’t have dental professionals on staff. In some states, it’s illegal for anyone but a dentist to perform dentistry.
So you’ll often find that if you go to a doctor for dental care, they’ll only treat your symptoms or pain, such as providing medication or antibiotics. You will still then need to see a dentist to get treated.
Question: Can I resume routine dental care?
Let’s set the record straight once and for all.
If your dentist follows the ADA and CDC’s recommendations, then yes, it is safe to go to your dentist for ALL of your dental care.
In August, the World Health Organization came out with a recommendation to delay non-essential dental care until the pandemic is under more control. However, the nation’s largest dental organization… This text opens a new tab to the ADA article on the WHO recommendation… said it “respectfully yet strongly disagrees.”
ADA President, Dr. Gehani said,
“Millions of patients have safely visited their dentists in the past few months for the full range of dental services.”
And here’s what we know about oral health and COVID:
- Dental care is essential healthcare
- Dentist help evaluate, diagnose, prevent, and treat oral diseases, which affect systemic health
- Having periodontitis during a COVID infection increases your risk of complications and dying
- Maintaining or improving your oral care can help better protect you during a COVID infection
- Oral health is linked to other health problems, like heart disease and diabetes, which can increase the severity of COVID
Not to mention, the ADA and CDC’s guidance include the strictest infection prevention and control practices. In theory, you should feel safer at the dentist than at the grocery store.
Take a look below to see what our family dentist in Beaverton, OR is doing to keep patients safe from the coronavirus.
How Harmony Dental in Beaverton keeps patients safe
Infection control has always been a top priority for our practice.
Dr. Bruno da Costa and his team are committed to maintaining a safe and comfortable office environment, even in the face of a global pandemic.
Our safety measures include all the recommendations of the ADA, CDC, and OHSA. Plus, we’ve also added our own protocols to ensure we’re doing absolutely everything possible. This includes:
- Pre-appointment COVID questionnaire: To ensure you’re not putting fellow patients or us at risk and avoid inconveniences if rescheduling is necessary.
- Parking lot waiting room: You will call us from your car to check-in, and we’ll let you know when we’re ready for you to come in.
- No guests: We’re taking social distancing seriously, and ask that guests wait in your car. One adult is allowed to accompany a minor or dependent.
- Masks required: You’ll be asked to wear a mask in our office until instructed otherwise. We’ll also ask you to use hand sanitizer as soon as you enter our office.
- Personal protective equipment: We’ve always worn some form of PPE, but we’ve upped our game. You’ll notice our administrative staff is now wearing masks, and the clinical team is in full PPE.
- Social distanced scheduled: We’ve altered our schedule to allow for more time between patients. This keeps you away from other patients in the lobby and halls and gives our team more than enough time to fully sanitize.
- Extra sanitization: We’ve always had rigorous sterilization protocols, so not much has changed there. But we’re taking extra precautions and adding more disinfecting cycles on things like door handles.
Since reopening in May, our office has been very successful in operating safely and ensuring we provide our patients with all the dental care they need to maintain optimal oral health.
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Our office is conveniently located in Beaverton, OR, and proudly serves surrounding communities, including Tigard, Aloha, Portland, Cedar Hills, Lake Oswego, Raleigh Hills, Sherwood, Garden Home-Whitford, Tualatin, and West Slope.