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The Surprising Connection Between Immunity & Healthy Gums

When used correctly, your toothbrush and floss can do more than just keep your pearly whites sparkling. By keeping your gums healthy, they can also reduce chronic inflammation that predisposes you to colds, flu, and—according to research—deadly complications of Covid-19.

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“Inflammation in the body makes Covid severity worse,” says Shervin Molayem, DDS, a Los Angeles-based periodontist and coauthor of a 2020 study published in the Journal of the California Dental Association, which found that hospitalized Covid patients with preexisting gum disease have higher levels of inflammation and are much more likely to suffer respiratory failure, requiring a ventilator, than patients with healthy gums. More recent research confirmed these results, finding severe gum disease is associated with “higher risk of ICU admission, need for assisted ventilation and death of COVID-19 patients, and with increased blood levels of biomarkers linked to worse disease outcomes.”

Gum disease is a common source of inflammation because it creates pockets around teeth where harmful bacteria take up residence, secrete toxins, and trigger an inflammatory response. Through the many blood vessels that surround teeth, bacteria and toxins circulate through your body in about a minute, setting off systemic inflammation.

To fight off infections of any kind, says Molayem, “Your body has only so many resources.” If these are tied up fighting gum disease, there are fewer resources to protect you from colds, flu, and Covid infection and complications. Which is why gum health is an underappreciated aspect of overall immune health.

How to Protect Gum Health

If your gums are already inflamed, dental treatment from a periodontist (a gum health specialist) is essential. To prevent gum problems, Molayem recommends these three steps:

Floss the right way: Gently pull the floss in between teeth, pull to the side to wrap the floss around one tooth, and clean all the way down to the gum line. Repeat this on the side of every tooth and then rinse with water.

Brush gently: Rough brushing can actually damage gum health. Brush each quarter of your mouth for 30 seconds.

Rinse with an alcohol-free mouthwash: Alcohol dries the mouth, which increases bacterial growth. Look for an alcohol-free mouthwash such as TheraBreath 24-Hour Fresh Breath Oral Rinse, StellaLife Vega Oral Care Rinse, and Nature’s Answer PerioBrite. The latter two contain herbs such as echinacea to fight bacteria and calendula to soothe gums.­