Gum Disease and Health

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Respiratory Disorders


Gum (Periodontal) Disease and Respiratory Infections         

An objective evaluation of a number of studies on respiratory infections strongly suggests that because the periodontal pocket acts as a reservoir for numerous toxic bacteria it may also be a significant risk factor in respiratory infections; potentially worsening respiratory diseases such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and emphysema. In one study, researchers isolated a number of virulent bacteria, normally only found in the mouth, in the lungs of people with pneumonia. This discovery leads researchers to believe that these respiratory bacteria can travel from the oral cavity into the lungs to cause infection. 

From a clinical perspective this is easy to understand because many highly toxic species of germs have been found in plaque samples from within periodontal pockets. Bacterial respiratory infections are thought to be acquired through aspiration (inhaling) of fine droplets from the mouth and throat into the lungs. These droplets contain germs that can breed and multiply within the lungs to cause damage. 

The relationship of oral bacteria to another type of lung disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD), which causes a persistent obstruction of the airways, is being investigated. People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and other respiratory diseases, typically have weakened immune systems, making it difficult to eliminate bacteria from the lungs. Scientists believe that through the aspiration process, bacteria cam cause frequent bouts of infection in patients with COPD. Studies are now in progress to learn to what extent oral hygiene and periodontal disease may be associated with more frequents bouts of respiratory disease in COPD patients. 

While there is not yet conclusive evidence that periodontal disease causes lung disorders, there most definitely is an association between lung disorders and periodontal/gum disease. The association is strong enough that I believe that anyone with lung or respiratory problems must consider a complete oral health examination to determine if gum disease is present. Common sense also dictates that 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.



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