Correlation Isn’t Always Causation COVID-19 and Teeth

While the primary concern at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic was its effect on the lungs, since the start of the crisis, researchers have learned that the virus can negatively impact other parts of the body as well, including the heart, the toes, the tongue and even your ability to taste your food.

But, even we were a little shocked to learn that it can affect the teeth, and we have heard from some patients who are concerned about COVID-19’s impact on oral health and how dental care can help.

One of the primary effects of COVID-19 on the teeth is the stress the pandemic brought on, causing an increase in bruxism (tooth clenching and grinding) and jaw problems.

However, some sufferers also report their experience with COVID-19 has caused their teeth and gums to weaken and their teeth to break or even fall out.

Wait, what? A respiratory virus can do that?

Maybe. Some doctors think so, but right now, it’s too soon to confirm a link between COVID-19 and oral health issues. However, some researchers believe that this particular coronavirus can infect the blood vessels, affecting the blood flow to our teeth, tongue and gums, ultimately leading to pain, decay and periodontal disease.

The stories of how COVID-19 affects the mouth and other parts of the body are cataloged in Survivor Corps, a group dedicated to COVID-19 patients. These stories show anecdotal evidence from individuals whose teeth have turned gray and loosened, as well as tales of painful and sensitive gums.

Some theories behind the connection:

Blood flow. As we mentioned above, one theory is that dental health deterioration in COVID-19 patients could be related to blood flow. Some individuals experience clots and clogged blood flow due to the virus’s attack on blood vessels. If your blood cannot easily flow to organs, tissues and teeth, damage can occur. It turns out that the mouth has a ton of blood vessels to support teeth, gums, your tongue and even your taste buds.

Location, location, location. One thing about the SARS-CoV-2 infection is that it attaches itself to a part of our cells called the ACE2 receptors when it infects the body. The virus finds areas rich in these receptors (i.e., the lungs and the mouth) and makes itself at home. Some researchers theorize that high concentrations of ACE2 receptors mean the mouth is at a greater risk of damage.

Fun fact: This idea supports the theory of the oral-systemic link, which theorizes a connection between the health of the mouth and the body.

While these theories are plausible, more research is needed to see the link between COVID-19 and the mouth.

In the meantime, don’t stress. If you’ve had COVID-19, that can be stressful enough, and more stress can trigger coping behaviors like clenching and grinding your teeth, which can mean the potential for damage to your tooth enamel, fractures, cracks and even tooth loss.

The signs of bruxism include:

  • Teeth that are flattened, fractured or chipped
  • Loose teeth
  • Worn-down tooth enamel
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Unexplained tooth pain
  • Sore jaw muscles
  • Jaw stiffness
  • Locked jaw or a jaw that won’t open or close completely
  • Jaw, neck or face pain or soreness
  • Unexplained ear pain or feeling like your ear is “full”
  • Headaches, particularly those that feel like “tension” headaches and cause pain around the temples
  • Damage from chewing on the inside of your cheek or biting your tongue
  • Sleep disruption
  • Your sleep partner complains that your clenching and grinding is noisy

Taking Care of Your Teeth Through COVID-19

Additionally, if you are currently dealing with COVID-19, it is important to continue practicing good oral hygiene while you’re sick.

We know you may not feel like it, but you must brush at least twice a day (for at least two minutes and hitting all surfaces of your teeth) and floss at least once per day. These actions help remove food debris from your teeth, helping reduce your potential for cavities, tooth decay and periodontal disease.

We also suggest brushing your tongue to get rid of any buildup that may develop.

Try to follow these good oral hygiene practices along with limiting your consumption of juices, sodas and other sugary drinks while you’re sick. Instead, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, which is critical to supporting your tissues and organs and is especially important while you are ill; this will also lower your risk of dental problems.

Reminder: Throw out your toothbrush after you have recovered.

If you have recently had a checkup, be sure to make it to your next regularly scheduled appointment. Seeing the dentist regularly can protect your oral health and lower your risk of dental and oral hygiene problems. If you haven’t been to the dentist in awhile, we recommend that you make an appointment after your recovery for an exam and professional cleaning to ensure that your teeth, gums and other mouth structures are healthy. If you need to schedule an appointment, call us now.

We look forward to hearing from you, and our dentists are here for all of your dental care needs.