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The Surprising Link Between Bad Breath, COVID-19, and Lung Cancer

Updated: May 27, 2022

An occasional bout with bad breath is most likely benign and should not be cause for concern. On the other hand, bad breath that persists even after brushing and flossing could be a sign of gum disease. Advanced gum disease increases your risk of developing lung cancer by 24%. Gum disease also causes a 3-fold increase in the likelihood that you will develop severe illness if you became infected with COVID-19.

What is Gum Disease

Gum disease is an infection of the gum tissue that holds your teeth in place. If left untreated, it causes recession of the jaw bone and gums, eventually resulting in tooth loss. The most common symptoms of gum disease are chronic bad breath and bleeding during brushing. Because gum disease, (which can be easily diagnosed by your dentist at Metro Dental) does not cause any pain; most people are unaware that they have it. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 50% of all adults over 30 have some form of gum disease.

What Causes Gum Disease

Throughout the day as you eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plaque (soft food particles) builds up on your teeth. In as little as 8 hours, the plaque starts to harden as it transforms into calculus, which can no longer be removed by brushing. Brushing and flossing twice a day will limit calculus buildup; however, it will not completely prevent it, which is why a bi-annual dental cleaning is recommended. During this appointment, your hygienist at Metro Dental of New Carrollton, will remove calculus build up that can no longer be removed by brushing alone.

If you repeatedly miss your bi-annual cleaning, calculus build-up goes unchecked and eventually extends beneath your gum line. The bacteria harbored by this calculus, releases toxins that not only cause chronic bad breath but also destroy the bone and gum tissue that hold your teeth in place. If this is left untreated, you will lose so much bone and gum tissue that your teeth become loose and eventually fall out or have to be extracted.

COVID-19 and Gum Disease

Unfortunately, the list of underlying conditions that increase your risk of severe illness from COVID-19, keeps growing. The newest member of this ominous club is advanced gum disease, also known as periodontitis. A new study published in the journal of clinical periodontology on February 1st 2021, concluded that advanced gum disease causes a 3-fold increase in the likelihood of severe illness due to COVID-19.

In addition to the clinical correlation between gum disease and COVID-19, there is also a significant behavioral component to this unfortunate relationship. We have all been stuck at home now for about a year, terrified to leave our homes. Everyday we watch the news in horror as the COVID-19 death toll climbs. We have put off all non-essential ventures out into the dangerous world. Getting a routine cleaning during the COVID-19 pandemic is on the “non-essential” list of activities for many of us. To make matters worse, our living room or dining room tables have been transformed into home offices. In addition, we have to keep our school-aged children on the straight and narrow with their school work, while trying to keep our bosses happy at the same time. As you can imagine, this leads to increased stress levels, which in turn leads to more frequent snacking. The fact that our kitchens and pantries, filled with sugary snacks are only a few steps away at all times, does not bode well for us. These factors, coupled with the fact that you might be putting off going to the dentist, increases your risk of gum disease and ultimately lung cancer and severe COVID-19 related illness.

Lung Cancer and Gum Disease

So you do not smoke because we all know it is bad for you and can lead to lung cancer. Did you know that advanced gum disease causes the same risk exposure to lung cancer as smoking? If you develop advanced gum disease, you have a 24% higher risk of developing lung cancer. The bacteria known as P. Gingivalis, which is found in the gums of patients with advanced gum disease, has also been discovered in lung and colon cancer tumors.

Additional evidence of the link between gum disease and lung cancer was provided by a new collaborative study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center and Tufts University School of Medicine and Cancer Center.

What Should You Do

You have to take a lot of things into consideration as you decide whether you should resume visiting the dentist every six months or not. If you have family members who are wearing dentures, they most likely lost their teeth due to gum disease. This puts you at a higher risk of gum disease, since there is a hereditary element to gum disease.

If you are able to go to the grocery store or pick up food from your favorite restaurant, then you should be able to go to a dentist that strictly adheres to these safety protocols:

  1. Intra-oral suction devices that reduce aerosols

  2. Extra-oral air filtration units that capture and filter aerosols that escape the mouth

  3. Social distancing

  4. Temperature checks

  5. N95 masks, face shields, and disposable or one-use for clinical staff

At Metro Dental of New Carrollton, we go above and beyond the CDC infection control guidelines in order to keep you safe. Continue brushing and flossing twice a day and we’ll see you soon.

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