Lung disease like pneumonia, emphysema, bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), are the third leading cause of death in the United States.
COPD and emphysema cause the airways to become narrowed which limits air flow in the lungs and causes shortness of breath. Pneumonia is inflammation of the lungs resulting from bacterial or viral infection. These are very serious health risks, particularly in the elderly.
The Link Between Gum Disease And Lung Disease
Recent studies are showing that there is a link between gum disease and lung diseases. This is a significant finding since we know that up to 75% of adults have some level of gum disease (gingivitis and periodontitis).
How Gum Disease Damages Your Lungs
So just how does gum disease relate to COPD and pneumonia? Well, it’s about two things - bacteria and inflammation. First of all, we know that gum disease involves inflammation in the gums, just as pneumonia and COPD involve inflammation in the lungs. The exact mechanism is currently unknown, but it is safe to say they are related through the common denominator of inflammation.
The second part of the equation is the bacteria in the mouth that cause gum disease. When air is inhaled through the mouth, these harmful bacteria can be picked up and transported directly into the lungs where they grow and multiply, leading to pneumonia.
What is even worse is that people who have respiratory ailments, such as COPD, often suffer from weakened immune systems, making it more difficult to eliminate bacteria from the lungs.
Besides being inhaled, mouth bacteria can also enter the blood stream directly through the gum tissues and travel to other parts of the body where they can cause infections in artificial joints, heart valves, arteries, and possibly even damaged lung tissue. In fact, researchers have isolated a number of virulent bacteria from the lungs of people with pneumonia that are normally only found in the mouth.
Studies reveal a direct association between pneumonia risk and the presence of certain strains of bacteria in the mouth. Thus it makes sense that when these bad bacteria in the mouth are controlled, the risk for pneumonia is decreased.
Stop Gum Disease To Save Your Lungs
Lung diseases can be severely disabling and debilitating, and even fatal. By working with your dentist, you may actually be able to prevent or diminish the progression of pneumonia or COPD. This provides yet another example of how periodontal health plays a role in keeping other systems of the body healthy.
While the exact mechanisms are not completely understood, there most definitely is an association between lung disease and gum disease. That’s why anyone with respiratory problems should have a complete oral health examination to determine if gum disease is present.
If you now have gum disease then your risk of a respiratory infection is greater than if you have healthy gums. In either situation it makes sense to take whatever steps are necessary to eliminate gum disease.