Health & Fitness

Good oral hygiene keeps severe Covid-19 at bay

ORAL-HYGIENE

Summary

  • The coronavirus disease (Covid-19) is still considered as a major public health concern.
  • Indeed, experts world over are still trying to learn more about it, so as to come up with effective ways of managing and controlling the disease.
  • Development of vaccines targeting the condition is no doubt a milestone in the fight against the coronavirus disease.

The coronavirus disease (Covid-19) is still considered as a major public health concern.

Indeed, experts world over are still trying to learn more about it, so as to come up with effective ways of managing and controlling the disease.

Development of vaccines targeting the condition is no doubt a milestone in the fight against the coronavirus disease.

But due to their limited access, it will be a long time before a majority of Kenyans get vaccinated.

Currently, priority is being given to at risk populations that include the elderly and front line health workers like medical personnel, teachers and security forces.

For the remaining individuals, the only hope for keeping the disease at bay is by adhering to the Covid-19 prevention guidelines such as wearing masks, social distancing and washing hand with soap.

Aside from these, scientists have also discovered that oral hygiene can play a key role in preventing severe symptoms of the disease that may lead to hospitalisation and even death among those infected.

A new study published in the Oral Medicine and Dental Research Journal, indicates that daily steps to maintain oral hygiene so as to prevent gum disease may cushion people from severe Covid-19 disease.

Gum disease is usually caused a sticky film of bacteria and food, known as plaque, which builds up around the teeth when people fail to clean or brush them.

The plaque releases acids that irritate people’s gums (the firm pink flesh that surrounds the teeth). It causes them to swell and even bleed.

As the accumulation of plaque increase, it may also make people to have unstable teeth or loose them altogether.

With regards to the coronavirus disease, the consequences are direr. The researchers note that dental plaque accumulation and inflamed gums intensify the likelihood of the virus that causes Covid-19 (SARS-CoV-2), reaching the lungs and causing more severe cases of the infection.

This is because inflamed gums create pathways for the virus to move directly from the mouth and get into the blood stream. The virus will then follow the path created until it reaches the blood vessels in the lungs where it increases the chances of infected people developing complications linked to Covid-19 lung disease.

Once the virus attacks the lungs, it causes a wide range of breathing complications – from mild to critical. Those that are severely affected usually require more intensive care with supplemental oxygen (oxygen therapy) and mechanical ventilation (where a machine is used to push air into a person’s lungs).

Some people usually recover from the complications but others may not, in instances where the virus destroys the lungs completely. They will therefore lose their lives.

Based on the findings of the new study, the researchers note that their discovery could make effective oral healthcare a potentially lifesaving action for people infected with the coronavirus disease.

Saving lives

"This model may help us understand why some individuals develop Covid-19 lung disease and others do not. It could also change the way we manage the virus - exploring cheap or even free treatments targeted at the mouth and, ultimately, saving lives,” stated Iain Chapple, a co-author of the research and Professor of Periodontology (study of supporting structures of teeth and conditions affecting them) at the University of Birmingham.

"Gum disease makes the gums leakier, allowing microorganisms [bacteria or viruses] to enter into the blood. Simple measures - such as careful tooth brushing and interdental brushing to reduce plaque build-up, along with specific mouthwashes, or even saltwater rinsing to reduce gum inflammation - could help decrease the virus' concentration in the saliva. This will help prevent the development of lung disease and reduce the risk of people developing severe Covid-19."

The study was conducted by an international team of researchers from the UK, South Africa and the United States.

It comprised of experts from the UK based Salisbury District Hospital and the University of Birmingham, as well as the Mouth-Body Research Institute in the US and South Africa.

The researchers noted that their new model, based on the findings of the study, is based on the mouth providing a breeding ground for the virus that causes Covid-19 to thrive.

Once this happens, any breach in the oral immune defences – such as gum disease - make it easier for the virus to enter the bloodstream.

Moving from the blood vessels in the gums, the virus would then pass through neck and chest veins - reaching the heart before being pumped into blood vessels in the lungs.

"Studies are urgently required to further investigate this new model, but in the meantime, daily oral hygiene and plaque control will not only improve oral health and well-being, but could also be lifesaving in the context of the pandemic," stated Professor Chapple.

Health experts recommend that people brush their teeth at least twice daily after meals, and especially before going to bed so as to maintain good oral hygiene.

But most Kenyans are still off the mark. Government statistics from the 2015 Kenya Stepwise Survey for non-communicable diseases (NCD) risk factors found that whereas 89 per cent of Kenyans clean their teeth once daily, only 36 per cent do so twice daily.