March 2021 • Jo-Anne Jones, RDH • Compliments of Oral Health Group
Well, it’s been a year. Most of us would agree that the current pandemic is not something we had ever imagined we would live through. What have we learned through this past year? How will our lives, our careers, our relationships benefit from this chapter in our history?
Dental hygiene garnered a top spot in the U.S. News and World Report published list of best healthcare support jobs. We’ve navigated through unchartered waters while at the same time identified as being the top profession at risk for transmission of COVID-19. We have realized that we are essential caregivers. There has been an abundance of compelling research to intertwine poor oral health with increased incidence of COVID-19 complications.
Here’s the connection: periodontal disease is a chronic inflammatory disease with far reaching systemic consequences. The burden of an ongoing inflammatory disease such as periodontal disease directs our immune system to an ongoing release of pro-inflammatory mediators or cytokines to an excessive level.
Researchers from around the world have joined forces to try to further understand the potential role of ‘cytokine storms’ in dictating the severity of this viral infection. One such cytokine, interleukin-6 which is a recognized mediator of periodontal destruction, has risen to the research forefront.
“What shocked us was the discovery of the protein’s devastating, life-threatening impact to patients once they’re hospitalized. One tiny, inflammatory protein [IL-6_] robbed them of their ability to breathe.”1 The role of the dental hygienist in reducing levels of IL-6 accomplished through periodontal therapy is not to be underestimated. We have a critical and essential role in mitigating risk for the clients we treat through reducing the inflammatory burden. To overlook this, we are unintentionally setting our clients up for risk of systemic disease and viral infection severity.
On a personal note, one of the best books to emerge in 2020 (in my humble opinion) is the children’s book, The Great Realization.2 Tomos Roberts, a 26-year old filmmaker, released the poem on YouTube in April. Since then, it has captured attention worldwide and been translated into multiple languages. It’s a simple rhyme, based on an intimate view of our world uncovering corporate greed, the self-indulgence of instant gratification, social media and its inherent social alienation and, finally, the pandemic. The poem inspires a brighter future, concluding that “sometimes you’ve got to get sick, before you start feeling better.”
The ending embraces a “new normal” and a better world,supporting the old adage that hindsight is 20/20. Perhaps we are beginning to understand what we need to learn. Take care, stay well and know we are in this together.
Check out the rest of this article and all the notes and links at the OralHealth Group website.