People with gum disease could be nine times more likely to die from COVID-19, according to a new study.
The study published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology found COVID patients with gum disease were not only more likely to die, but also 4.5 times more likely to require a ventilator, and 3.5 times more likely to be admitted to intensive care.
The study reports periodontitis shares common risk factors with most chronic inflammatory diseases known to influence the severity of COVID-19.
"We know that gum disease, periodontal disease is a chronic inflammatory disease. It would make sense that all of this would be linked like it is," Dr. Travis Epperson, with Epperson Payne Dental Group, said.
Gum disease is an infection of the tissues that hold and support the teeth, Dr. Epperson said. If left untreated, it can cause tooth loss and even affect other areas of the body.
"Bleeding when you're brushing or just gums that bleed when you barely touch them would be an early warning sign," he said. "The same blood vessels that go to your heart or your brain or anywhere else run through your gums and your mouth. So, if you have disease process in there, it can link with other parts."
Some hypothetical mechanisms could explain the associations between the diseases. For instance, the study reports bacteria from gum disease might aggravate a COVID-19 infection.
More research is needed to see if there is a clear link between gum disease and COVID-19, but Dr. Epperson said it is all the more reason why routine dental checkups are crucial to overall health.
"People will say the mouth's the gateway to the body, and just understanding your mouth is connected to your body, if you're not keeping that healthy, you're going to have challenges keeping the rest of your body healthy," he said.