Since the COVID-19 epidemic began, thousands of clinical studies have been published regarding the pathways and mechanisms of viral infection. Although emergency use authorised mRNA vaccines have become the default medical countermeasure in many countries, new research has revealed other ways in which your own body mounts an early immune response. One of the first lines of defence is the barrier, innate and adaptive immune responses that occur in your oral cavity.

Interferons – your anti-viral first immune response in the oral cavity

Interferons are an essential part of your natural immune defence in response to pathogenic viruses, such as SARS-CoV-2. Interferons are specialised proteins that infected cells release upon infection.

These proteins – called type I interferon-alpha and interferon-beta – alert and trigger white blood cells to start releasing another protein called interferon-gamma as well as interleukins, and pro-inflammatory cytokines & chemokins. Interferon-gamma helps: regulate the immune response; restrict viral replication/proliferation; and healthy cells to fight infection.

Oral pathogens prevent infected cells alerting the immune system

In a recent study conducted by University of Louisville School of Dentistry, researchers examined the way oral pathogens affected anti-viral immune responses in the oral cavity. They found that the presence of Porphyromonas Gingivalis (P. Gingivalis) – a periodontal pathogen responsible for the development of periodontal (gum) disease – significantly disrupted the anti-viral early immune response in the oral cavity. More specifically, P. Gingivalis disrupted the immune response by completely shutting down interferon responses in periodontitis patients chronically infected with this oral pathogen. The presence of P. Gingivalis and other bad bacteria in the oral cavity also increased the oral viral burden in addition to suppressing the immune system.

Most people already know how to protect their oral health against oral pathogens. This includes: daily brushing, interdental cleaning (incl. flossing) and use of mouthwash; eating a healthy fibre-rich diet; replacing your toothbrush every few months; and attending regular dental check-ups and cleans. Taking the right steps to care for your oral health, also allows your oral immune system to work more effectively against viruses – before they invade the rest of your body.