When you fill out your shopping list this week, I’d like you to add three extra items. A new toothbrush, a fresh pack of dental floss, and some mouthwash.
Because once you read this, I’m betting you’re going to want to recommit to your dental routine. And that’s especially true if you have heart issues.
Now, WAIT, don’t zone out yet.
I’m NOT going to tell you about how vital oral health is to your cardiovascular health. Well, not directly, at least.
Because while that IS true, I’m guessing you know that by now. After all, I’ve alerted Healthier Talk readers to the connection between teeth and heart health many times before.
Instead, today, I want to talk about what your teeth have to do with the pandemic.
The coronavirus crisis continues
It’s hard to believe it’s October 2021, and I’m still sitting down to write to you about the coronavirus. But the truth is we’re still not entirely out of the woods yet.
Although COVID-19 cases are in retreat right now in many places in the United States, we just reached a grim milestone of 700,000 deaths. And because cases tend to rise and fall in waves, we don’t know what the winter will bring.
The good news for folks that are vaccinated is breakthrough COVID infections appear to still be uncommon. Plus, if you happen to be one of the unlucky folks that end up with a breakthrough case, there’s even more good news.
Vaccination tends to lead to far less severe cases, it slashes your risk of hospitalization, and it may very well leave you totally asymptomatic.
But that last plus also has a potential downside.
Asymptomatic infections make accurately counting and tracking breakthrough cases tough. But even worse, they mean folks who feel fine, but are infected with the coronavirus, can unknowingly spread it to others who might not be so lucky.
And there are a few things that we know can make you more likely to end up in that “not so lucky” crowd.
If you’re in certain higher-risk groups, your chance of developing serious symptoms with COVID-19 is significantly higher. That would include being a bit older or having an underlying medical condition such as…
- kidney disease
- a weakened immune system
- lung disease
- heart disease
This brings me to that weird teeth connection I mentioned earlier.
Study links COVID-19 severity to oral issues
You probably already know that less than stellar oral hygiene is linked to increased chronic inflammation and heart disease. If you’d like to catch up on that connection, check out my earlier report The stroke risk you can see in your bathroom sink.
Well, COVID-19 severity is also linked to our body’s inflammatory response. In fact, it’s why I alerted readers last March to some exciting new research on vitamin B6 (pyridoxine). Scientists say the nutrient may be able to fight back against the inflammatory cytokine storms that can accompany a severe COVID-19 infection.
But now, new research has found there’s another simple way you may be able to lower your risk of a severe coronavirus infection, especially if you have heart disease. And that, of course, is to take good care of your teeth and gums.
For the study, researchers recruited 86 volunteers with heart disease who had a confirmed case of COVID-19. They collected information from each of the participants using questionnaires. Plus, they gathered hard data from their medical records, including their C-reactive protein (CRP) levels.
CRP is a protein made by your liver in response to inflammation. So doctors measure it to reveal how much inflammation there is in your body.
The researchers found a link between poor oral health and more severe COVID-19 infections, and longer recovery times. That means tooth or gum issues could put you at greater risk, especially if you have heart disease.
Step up your dental routine to reduce your risk
The study’s lead author explained that the damaged tissues in our mouth could act as a sort of “reservoir” for the SARS-CoV2 virus. In other words, if you have gum disease or tooth decay, this may provide a welcome environment for the virus to hide out and build up. And this can lead to a higher viral load and a more severe COVID-19 infection.
This study happened to look specifically at heart disease patients and still needs to be published in a peer-reviewed journal. And more research into the link is necessary, of course. But other high-risk folks who don’t have heart disease would likely face similar outcomes if they develop COVID-19.
And that means if you’ve let your oral care slip a bit during the pandemic, as a lot of folks have, it’s time to fix that. Commit to regular brushing, flossing (get THIS kind), and rinsing with an antimicrobial mouthwash. And go ahead and make an appointment to see your dentist.