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Dear Patient: Pandemics, wildfires, and ... oral health?

June 12, 2023
What do unrelated environmental and infectious disease events have to do with your oral health? Amanda Hill explains.

Turn on the news, and you see another alarming disaster. From the next emerging infection to wildfires destroying the Earth, it’s enough to make you want to crawl under the bed like my dog during a thunderstorm. But what do these alarming events have to do with your oral health?

The mouth is a gateway to the body—and unlike Vegas, what happens in your mouth doesn’t stay there. It travels all over your body, affecting your systems and putting you at risk for disease. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, my hygienist friend Annie and I immediately started to wonder if susceptibility and severity had anything to do with periodontal (gum) disease. And while studies are still ongoing, researchers have found evidence that suggests an association with the severity of disease could be explained through the direct role of periodontal bacteria in aggravating lung infections, as well as the indirect effect of oral bacteria in causing systemic inflammation.1

What that means is that bacteria in your mouth that cause your gums to bleed or give you that funny taste could be not only putting you more at risk for catching whatever bug is going around, but also affecting how your body bounces back.

But what about those wildfires? Oral health doesn’t have anything to do with smoke.

Hold tight! As warnings of air quality hit the news and people are warned to stay indoors, there’s special attention paid to at-risk populations. Those with cardiovascular or respiratory issues are in that group. And, you guessed it, there’s a direct link between oral health and the heart and lungs—the bugs that cause gum disease can influence inflammation throughout the body and especially in the heart and lungs.

So what can you do? Ensure your mouth is as healthy as possible before the disaster happens. Having a strong immune system is your best defense against what could come next.

Maintain preventive care

How often you need to see your hygienist depends on your oral health. Listen to their recommendations and keep your appointment. I’m always shocked when my six-month appointment rolls around. I feel like I was just there!

No matter what risk group you fall in, be sure to ask your prevention specialist, aka your dental hygienist, how to achieve the healthiest mouth possible. But without a doubt, do not leave disease untreated. (By disease, I mean cavities or bleeding gums.)

Up your home care game

I’m not talking about just brushing and flossing, although those can be effective. Look into other home care aids like water flossers or brushes and picks you can put in between your teeth to disrupt bacteria. I wear custom-fitted trays with a peroxide gel to get to bugs below the gumline every morning when I shower. There are great tools out there to help you achieve health.

Check your nutrition

You remember the saying you are what you eat, and it’s pretty true—if you eat junk, your immune system will turn to junk. I know I sound like your mother here, but eating those lean proteins and veggies will go a long way toward helping you prevent inflammation in your mouth and in your whole body. And that doesn't even begin to get to sugar and its relationship to cavities and overall wellness. So eat your broccoli!


1. Tamimi F, Altigani S, Sanz M. Periodontitis and coronavirus disease 2019. Periodontol 2000. 2022;89(1):207-214. doi:10.1111/prd.12434