The Mouth-Lung Connection

Recent research studies have linked periodontal disease to a number of different respiratory diseases. While the connection might not seem obvious at first, think of what might happen if you breath in bacteria from infected teeth and gums over a long period of time. Periodontal disease is a progressive condition which generally begins with a bacterial infection. Generally, bacterial respiratory infections occur due to the inhalation of fine droplets from the mouth and throat into the lungs. These droplets contain germs that can spread and multiply within the lungs to impair breathing. Researchers have concluded that periodontal disease may actually play a causal role in the contraction of pneumonia, bronchitis and emphysema. Research has also shown that bacteria can be drawn into the lower respiratory tract and worsen existing lung conditions. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a respiratory condition characterized by blockage of the airways, and caused mostly by smoking, has been proven to worsen if the patient also has periodontal disease.

The fact that respiratory disease and periodontal disease are linked may seem far-fetched, but there is plenty of evidence to support it. While the presence of bacteria is a determinant of disease, it is often the inflammatory response to bacteria that is essential in the initiation and progression of disease states. Both periodontal disease and respiratory disease are classified as inflammatory conditions, so it may be possible that inflammation is a factor in the link between the two.  Another reason for the connection between respiratory problems and periodontal disease may be low immunity. It has been shown that most patients who experience chronic or persistent respiratory problems have low immunity. This low immunity allows oral bacteria to grow above and below the gum line without being challenged by the body’s immune system.  Not only does this accelerate the progression of periodontal disease, it also puts the patient at increased risk of developing emphysema, pneumonia and COPD.

Respiratory infections like COPD and pneumonia can be severely debilitating and are a major cause of death in the United States. The benefits of controlling periodontal disease are twofold.  First, any discomfort in the mouth will be reduced and the gums will be healthier. Second, the frequent respiratory infections associated with COPD and other common lung problems will reduce in number. These studies provide yet another example of how periodontal health plays a role in keeping other systems of the body healthy.

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