Brushing your teeth regularly and maintaining proper oral care can play a big role in the fight against COVID-19 — since patients with gum disease are nine times more likely to die from the bug, according to new research.
A study of more than 500 patients also found that those with gum disease were 3.5 times more likely to be admitted to intensive care and 4.5 times more likely to need a ventilator, Medical Xpress reported.
In addition, coronavirus patients with poor gum health are at least three times more likely to experience complications, according to the study published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology.
Blood markers indicating inflammation in the body were markedly higher in patients with gum disease, suggesting that inflammation may explain the raised complication rates.
"The results of the study suggest that the inflammation in the oral cavity may open the door to the coronavirus becoming more violent," said study co-author Professor Lior Shapira of the Hebrew University in Israel.
"Oral care should be part of the health recommendations to reduce the risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes," added Shapira, president-elect of the European Federation of Periodontology.
Periodontitis, a serious form of gum disease that affects up to half of all adults worldwide, can spread throughout the body if left untreated — and COVID-19 is associated with an inflammatory response that may be fatal.
The study, which was conducted in Qatar, included 568 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 between February and July 2020.
Of those, 40 had complications — including admission to the ICU, being placed on a ventilator, or death — and 528 did not.
Other factors including body mass index, asthma, heart disease, diabetes, blood pressure and smoking also were taken into account in COVID-19 complications. Data also were obtained on blood levels of chemicals related to inflammation in the body.
The chances of death for COVID-19 patients with gum disease was 8.81 times higher than others, while the chances of ending up in intensive care or on a ventilator were 3.54 and 4.57 times greater, respectively.
"If a causal link is established between periodontitis and increased rates of adverse outcomes in COVID-19 patients, then establishing and maintaining periodontal health may become an important part of the care of these patients," the authors wrote.
Professor Mariano Sanz of the Complutense University of Madrid, Spain, one of the authors, said that oral bacteria in patients with periodontitis can be inhaled and infect the lungs.
"This may contribute to the deterioration of patients with COVID-19 and raise the risk of death. Hospital staff should identify COVID-19 patients with periodontitis and use oral antiseptics to reduce transmission of bacteria," he said.
"This study adds further evidence to the links between oral health and respiratory conditions. Periodontitis is a common disease but can be prevented and treated," Shapira said.