Breaking Down the Oral-COVID Connection So Far

cracked tooth and COVID virus graphic

If it isn’t clear by now, COVID-19 is not just another flu.

In November, the New York Times published an article with the alarming headline, “Their Teeth Fell Out. Was It Another COVID-19 Consequence?” The article followed the story of one COVID-19 “long-hauler,” the term given to those who experience a wide range of symptoms long after they initially contracted the virus, ranging in from common symptoms like coughing to more unexpected manifestations like early symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease.

Before we go further, we’re going to stop right here and clarify that most of the information in this post is anecdotal. So, it wouldn’t be correct to say with certainty that “COVID-19 causes Parkinson’s Disease.” Doctors and patients are continuously discovering new symptoms and manifestations of COVID-19, and it will take some time for researchers to study the disease and find out why certain people’s bodies react the way they do.

But it’s worth talking about the more unexpected side effects experienced by long-haulers, if for no other reason than to reaffirm just how important it is to take steps to ensure that you are protecting yourself and those you love from the virus.

Are there direct connections between COVID-19 and oral issues?

The person interviewed by the New York Times — who noticed a loose tooth while chewing a breath mint only to have the tooth fall out the next day without pain or blood — had a history of smoking. When she visited her dentist, he discovered that she had bone loss in her jaw from when she used to smoke, which likely contributed to the loss of her tooth. But why hadn’t her tooth fallen out until it did? Or, what caused it to fall out when it did? Another long-hauler mentioned in the article, a 12-year-old with healthy teeth, also suffered tooth loss. (At 12, he had no history of smoking.)

One possible explanation is that COVID-19 in some way, shape, or form, could exacerbate pre-existing oral conditions. If that is the case, there is still significant cause for concern, as nearly half of the adult population in the United States has some form of periodontal disease.

Researchers are focusing more and more on the impacts that COVID-19 has on blood vessels, which also could help explain oral manifestations and other seemingly unrelated symptoms. We know that blood vessels are the conduit for many diseases with oral manifestations like heart disease and diabetes. Tie in COVID-19 symptoms like blood clots, bleeding of brain vessels, and rashes, and the possibility of oral implications makes a bit more sense.

A clearer picture: indirect consequences of COVID-19

Beyond the possibility of scary side effects of COVID-19, there are a couple indirect oral manifestations of simply existing during a pandemic that are worth talking about.

For example, take this New York Times interview with a Manhattan dentist who has seen a massive increase in cracked teeth among his patients since the onset of the pandemic. As more people are working from home, crouching over laptops on couches and kitchen chairs, or working in stressful situations, clenching jaws and cracking teeth are becoming important concerns.

Similarly, early in the pandemic, most dental offices cancelled all routine care, only offering emergency services. While this move was necessary to ensure patient and provider safety as proper protocols were created and put in place, it did cut off an important aspect of preventive care for many. Even as dental offices for the most part have reopened, without doubt there will be some portion of the population too nervous to schedule their next cleaning or dental exam.

The bottom line

At the end of the day, there are more unknowns than knowns when it comes to the oral consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are more unknowns than knowns when it comes to the consequences in general, from our heads to our toes. At NCOHC, we are certain about three things:

  • First, schedule your next regular dentist appointment if you can, and if you are uncomfortable, have a conversation with your dentist about their safety protocols.
  • Second, brush up on your oral health education, and make sure you and your family are taking the steps you can at home to keep your mouths healthy and happy.
  • Third, there are people who can’t afford to see a dentist, and there are people who have not received proper oral health education. Advocacy for policy change is one of the most impactful things we can do to structurally change the oral health landscape, increasing access and equity in care.

If you want to get involved and build a better oral health ecosystem in North Carolina, join us today!

NCOHC is a program of the Foundation for Health Leadership & Innovation. For more information and to stay up to date, subscribe to the NCOHC newsletter. If you are interested in becoming an NCOHC member, you can also fill out our membership form. It’s free!