Today’s blog speaks about the link that has been found between periodontal (gum) disease and an increased risk of respiratory diseases, such as pneumonia and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Recent studies have concluded that bacteria in the mouth can colonize the lungs and contribute to pneumonia and other respiratory ailments. This is particularly true with nursing home residents and hospital patients who are using a respirator. Often oral hygiene is less than ideal in these settings, and oral bacteria flourish in the mouth.
A recent study out of Yale’s School of Medicine pinpointed bacterial changes in patients’ mouths prior to the onset of pneumonia. It’s believed that these harmful bacteria are directly inhaled into the lungs, where they set up shop – eventually leading to respiratory infections and even fatal pneumonia. In addition to pneumonia, the studies have revealed a direct connection between mortality from COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and periodontal (gum) disease.
The disease causing bacteria living in dental plaque are shed into saliva, and small droplets are then aspirated into the lungs. Normally, the defense mechanisms of the lungs prevent infection, but if an unusually virulent pathogen is inhaled or an overwhelming number of germs are inhaled simultaneously, or if the patient’s immune system is suppressed or defective, then infection soon follows. Therefore, proper attention to oral hygiene, including brushing your teeth for two to three minutes twice a day, flossing daily, using an antibacterial, fluoride containing toothpaste, and having regular dental checkups and hygiene visits may help prevent respiratory illness, especially in vulnerable populations.
To protect hospitalized patients and elderly family members from this danger, caregivers and patients should provide even more stringent oral hygiene practices. This might include brushing the teeth for the patient daily and helping them use an anti-bacterial mouthwash. Nurses can help by swabbing patients’ mouths with a cloth soaked in plaque-inhibiting, chlorhexidine containing rinses such as Peridex. But even in the population at large, we all need to practice better oral hygiene, since it has now been shown that the lungs are not separate from our mouths and having unhealthy or plaque containing mouths can put us at risk for life threatening respiratory diseases.
That’s all for today, until next time,
your Southfield Dentist
Dr. Mark W Langberg, DDS, MAGD
26206 West 12 Mile Road, Suite 303
Southfield, MI 48034