While most people who become infected with the novel coronavirus will recover, researchers have found that some – anywhere from 10 to 33%, depending on the study – will experience long-term symptoms.
And according to a recent article in the New York Times, there are some patients who have reported a rather startling post-COVID symptom to fellow members of an online support group: losing teeth.
One woman described noticing a tooth wiggling after she popped a mint, only to have the tooth fall out the next day. Another said she lost a tooth while eating ice cream. Others report having sensitive gums or teeth chipping or taking on a gray appearance.
However, all the evidence is anecdotal. There’s no rigorous data. So some dentists are skeptical, the Times reported.
“It’s extremely rare that teeth will literally fall out of their sockets,” said Dr. David Okano, a periodontist at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
Usually, there are underlying problems, such as gum disease. And, indeed, some published research suggests that poor oral health may actually be a risk factor for COVID severity. Gum disease in particular is also linked with pre-existing conditions also known to raise COVID risk, including heart conditions, obesity, and diabetes.
In fact, one of the patients featured in the Times story turned out to be suffering massive bone loss in her jaw – a consequence of years of smoking. But others were seemingly in good oral health. So what gives?
One clue, suggested Dr. William W. Li, lies in the fact that these patients report no pain or blood loss. Dr. Li is the president and medical director of the president and medical director of the Angiogenesis Foundation, a nonprofit that studies the process the body uses to grow new blood vessels.
The new coronavirus wreaks havoc by binding to the ACE2 protein, which is ubiquitous in the human body. Not only is it found in the lungs, but also on nerve and endothelial cells. Therefore, Dr. Li says, it’s possible that the virus has damaged the blood vessels that keep the teeth alive in Covid-19 survivors; that also may explain why those who have lost their teeth feel no pain.
It’s also possible that the widespread immune response, known as a cytokine storm, may be manifesting in the mouth.
“If a Covid long hauler’s reaction is in the mouth, it’s a defense mechanism against the virus,” said Dr. Michael Scherer, a prosthodontist in Sonora, Calif. Other inflammatory health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, he said, also correlate with gum disease in the same patients.
“Gum disease is very sensitive to hyper-inflammatory reactions, and Covid long haulers certainly fall into that category,” Dr. Scherer said.
Bottom line? More than ever, now is the time to take extra good care of your teeth and gums – through healthy eating, optimal hygiene, and healthy habits such as exercise, sufficient sleep, and managing chronic stress. And be sure to see us – or your local dentist, if you’re outside the Arlington/DFW area – for regular professional cleanings and exams. That’s a key to maintaining excellent oral health, as well.
And if you’re worried about COVID transmission in the dental office, rest assured, there’s been no single documented case of a patient contracting COVID during a dental visit – and when standard safety and infection control protocols are followed, there’s minimal risk to your dental team, as well, as research has shown.
You can learn more about our own COVID safety practices here.
hand over mouth by Luiz Carvalho from the Noun Project