This Bad Habit Could Increase Your Risk of Dying From COVID, Doctor Says

Research shows that this common bad habit could increase your risk of COVID complications.

Since the start of the pandemic, we've known that some people are at a higher risk of severe illness from the coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently has a long list of conditions that could raise your risk when it comes to COVID, including chronic kidney disease, obesity, and even asthma. But that may not be all. New research is now pointing to the fact that one common bad habit could actually increase your risk of dying from COVID: bad oral hygiene.

"We've always known there's a connection between the gums in our mouth and our body in terms of heart attacks, and strokes and diabetes," Shervin Molayem, DDS, an oral dentist surgeon based, told KOB 4, an NBC affiliate in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

According to Molayem, as much as 100 million bacteria can live on just one dirty tooth. And he says it only takes about a minute for that bacteria to travel from your mouth to the rest of your body, swimming around in your bloodstream and surrounding all of your vital organs.

Molayem says the problem is that when someone has too much bacteria in their bloodstream, the body may try to go into defense mode to fight it off by releasing a protein called interleukin-6 (IL-6, for short). Unfortunately, elevated levels of that protein can lead to a lot of complications. "IL-6 also destroys tissue," Molayem said. "It destroys some of the lining in our blood vessels. It can cause a decrease in oxygen, gas exchange in your lungs. It messes with our linings in our lungs."

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In fact, Molayem worked on a study showing the connection between bad oral hygiene and the coronavirus, which is set to be published in the Journal of the California Dental Association in October. His research was prompted by a July study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, that found that increased levels of IL-6 could make a COVID-19 patient more likely to need a ventilator—which is a sign of serious infection, often leading to death. (In COVID-19 patients requiring ventilation, reported mortality rates range from 50 to 97 percent.)

Similarly, a July study from George Washington University analyzed five biomarkers in the blood of 300 COVID-19 patients from mid-March through mid-May, one of them being IL-6. In the study, published in the journal Future Medicine, the researchers found that elevated levels of the protein are associated with higher odds of clinical deterioration and death due to the virus. "Higher D-dimer and IL-6 levels were observed in patients requiring ICU admission, in patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome, and in non-survivors," the researchers concluded.

Shot of an attractive young woman brushing her teeth in the bathroom at home

If you have a blood test upcoming and want to check out your IL-6 levels, know that the normal range is 0.0 to 15.5 picogram/milliliter (pg/ml). In the George Washington University study, the average IL-6 level among the patients was a whopping 65 pg/ml—and those with elevated IL-6 levels were five times more likely to die due to COVID-19.

As a result of these findings, Molayem wants people to know that bad oral hygiene leading to high levels of IL-6 could increase your risk of dying from COVID-19. To lower that risk, he stresses the importance of taking care of your gums and teeth. That means brushing your teeth twice a day for at least two minutes each time, flossing twice a day, and doing mouthwash rinses. If possible, he also recommends scheduling a deep cleaning appointment with your dentist. And for more hygiene habits to avoid right now, check out 7 Coronavirus Mistakes You're Making That Would Horrify Your Doctor.

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