Taste and SARS-CoV-2 – why are dentists important?

In March 2020, while in Italy, I examined a 36-year-old woman with no associated medical conditions who presented with ageusia and anosmia. This patient eventually tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and was the first well documented case that specifically reported taste and smell alteration as the sole manifestation of COVID-19 in an otherwise healthy individual.

Dentists and COVID-19.

This case and the associated umbrella review, now published in TripleO, exemplifies how chemosensory alterations can be the sole clinical manifestations of COVID-191. This led me to write a piece for dentists and oral health workers, where I collected the available evidence and resources to help dental professionals minimize the spread of SARS-CoV-22. These recommendations have been well-received, widely cited, and are being integrated in the clinical curriculum of leading dental schools worldwide3.

Geographical patterns of COVID-related taste alterations.

While the story unfolded, I found it interesting to see how chemosensory disfunctions in COVID-19 patients varied dramatically between studies. For this reason, I assessed the cumulative prevalence of ageusia/hypogeusia or dysgeusia in SARS-CoV-2-positive cases and found that there were striking geographical differences – see map below. Preprint of this work was published in medRxiv. There is now a well-recognized pattern of gustatory disturbances in COVID-19. We were the first to report this regional variation4 and our findings were eventually peer-reviewed and accepted for publication in the Journal of Infection and Public Health5. My early observations were extended in a collaborative study on 27,687 cases, which was recently published6.

  • 1 Colella and Cirillo. Self-reported smell and taste alteration as the sole clinical manifestation of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol Oral Radiol. 2020; doi: 10.1016/j.oooo.2020.11.016
  • 2 Cirillo N. COVID-19 outbreak: succinct advice for dentists and oral healthcare professionals. Clin Oral Investig 2020; 24(7):2529-2535
  • 3 LKasar VR, Cajulis OS, Chiappelli F. Critical comments on COViD-19 outbreak: succinct advice for dentists and oral healthcare professionals by Cirillo (2020). Bioinformation. 2020;16(7):509-512.
  • 4 Cirillo N. Taste alteration in COVID-19: a rapid review with data synthesis reveals significant geographical differences. J Infect Public Health 2021; [Accepted for publication]
  • 5 Cirillo N. Geographical and temporal differences of gustatory disfunction in COVID-19. J Korean Med Sci. 2021; in press
  • 6 Cirillo N, Bizzoca ME, Lo Muzio E, Cazzolla AP, Lo Muzio L. Gustatory dysfunction in COVID-19 patients: a rapid systematic review on 27,687 cases. Acta Odontol Scand. 2021; doi: 10.1080/00016357.2020.1869828.