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Gum disease, Pneumonia and Covid-19: a dangerous link!

The coronavirus started as a small number of pneumonia cases with an unknown cause which later identified as a new virus named Covid-19.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says 80% of people will suffer only mild cold like symptoms and recover well without needing hospital treatment. But it can develop into a more serious illness such as pneumonia requiring hospitalisation in one in six people.

Pneumonia is a very serious respiratory infection of the lungs that can be caused by bacteria or viruses such as the latest Covid-19 where tiny sacs in the lung tissue become inflamed and fill up with fluid. Common Symptoms include cough, fever, chest pain, difficulty breathing, sweating and shivering.

Pneumonia is made up of several sub-types including:

  • Viral pneumonia- caused by a respiratory virus
  • Aspiration pneumonia- caused by breathing in a foreign object
  • Hospital acquired pneumonia- develops in hospital whilst being treated for another condition or having an operation
  • Ventilation associated pneumonia -being in intensive care on a breathing machine known as a ventilator.

Pneumonia is one of the top causes of death worldwide especially amongst the elderly.

Apart from being elderly other risk factors include being immunocompromised from an underlying medical condition or taking certain medications, smoking and poor oral hygiene.

Unfortunately we can’t change our age or our medical history but we can do something about our own oral hygiene and smoking status.

We all know that tooth decay and gum disease are signs of poor oral health but did you know they also increase the risk of a lung infection and pneumonia is linked with poor oral health and gum disease.

In a healthy mouth beneficial good bacteria and harmful pathogenic bacteria exist in harmony. A build-up of dental plaque causes an imbalance and the overgrowth of harmful bacteria causes problems for the teeth and gums as well as the rest of the body including the lungs.

Bacteria can enter our lungs when we inhale and they can live and grow there. Our immune systems can usually prevent the bacteria from causing problems but when our immune systems are low or busy fighting off another virus or infection the lungs can become inflamed and there is a risk of it leading to bronchitis or pneumonia. Additionally it can make chronic lung disease conditions even worse.

Bacteria from dental plaque can lead to periodontal disease; this is advanced gum disease which affects the supporting tissues of the teeth causing the bone around them to break down. When this breakdown occurs it allows an entryway for the bacteria to enter the bloodstream and access the heart and lung tissue.

gum disease

This bacteria has also been found in the breathing tubes of intubated ventilated patients as when there is a high bacterial load in the mouth it travels down the tubes into the lungs making their condition worse and harder to treat.

However the good news is that a good oral hygiene routine can help to prevent this from happening and not only will your teeth thank you for it, your body will be so much healthier at the same time.

Whilst we are in lockdown it is easy to fall out of our usual routines and this can have a negative effect on our mental health especially during such an unsettling time. Having a routine will help us to feel like we have taken back some control and help to protect our health and wellbeing.

Here are a few things you can do to make sure you are staying healthy.

Even though you may be working from home make sure each morning you get out of your pj’s and get showered and dressed.

Each morning before breakfast brush your teeth at the gum line with a fluoride toothpaste and clean interdentally with floss or brushes.


Maintain a healthy balanced diet to feel good and keep your immune system strong.

Avoid snacking or grazing throughout the day particularly on highly processed and sugary foods which will increase the levels of bacteria in your mouth and can cause tooth decay, plus we all know it is no good for our waistlines!

Whilst you are saving time each day not on the gruelling commute, make sure to get out daily for some fresh air and exercise even if that’s just a nice walk, it will still release those endorphins that make us feel great and help reduce stress and anxiety.

Make sure to get a good quality sleep each night, so try and avoid the temptation to binge on a boxset into the early hours because you haven’t got to get up for work in the morning. Sleep is essential for our bodies to repair and sleep deprivation can have major impact on our physical and mental health.

And don’t forget to brush and floss your teeth before you go to bed!

By Amy Stevens, Hygienist and Dental Therapist