How Lung Problems Affect Your Oral Health

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A healthy mouth is the key to a healthy smile, but did you know your oral health can become affected by certain lung problems? Mouth and lung issues are often connected by way of periodontal (gum) health, which can directly contribute to respiratory diseases you may not know you have. If you're suffering from or want to avoid these problems, remember to take care of your mouth.

Potential Conditions

Some of the most common lung ailments that can affect your mouth are asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), tuberculosis and sleep apnea. Their effects on the oral cavity come from the treatments used against these disorders. Asthma and COPD medications, especially those containing corticosteroids, can cause dry mouth and, without proper rinsing after use, a yeast infection (oral candidiasis). This condition, also known as thrush, can be uncomfortable and may require a prescription to clear up.

If active, tuberculosis can spread easily to another person, and is best handled through emergency dental care in a hospital setting. If it's inactive, you can pursue regular dental care, but be sure to inform your dentist or dental hygienist of your condition. Sleep apnea can also cause dry mouth and lead to an increase in decay and gingivitis. Keep in mind, however, that your position in the dental chair may also affect your breathing while undergoing treatment.

Healthy Gums, Healthy Lungs

Although the remedy for a lung condition can cause problems in the mouth, the Journal of Periodontology has shown the reverse to be true as well: Your gum health can actually contribute to lung disease. The premise of Journal's study suggests the oral pathogens, or bacteria present in the mouth, may increase a patient's chances of developing COPD and aspiration pneumonia. These bugs can accumulate in the back of the throat and get inhaled into the lungs, causing an infection or even worsening a respiratory problem that's already present.

More research is required to fully understand the link; however, gum health should be watched for its connection to other chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease and arthritis. Remember, a healthy body also includes a healthy mouth, and a thorough medical history is important when you visit your dentist or hygienist. Always mention any lung issues, whether acute or chronic, as well as medications you may be taking. Don't assume it isn't related to your appointment!

How to Keep Them That Way

What can you do to achieve optimal gum health? A visit to your dentist or dental hygienist is the first step. This visit will include a thorough exam to assess your periodontal health, though your teeth and soft tissues will be examined for changes as well. Be sure to mention any respiratory problems you may be experiencing at present. Do you suffer from dry mouth? Do you mostly breathe through your mouth? These things are important to determine which dental treatments are best for you. Ultimately, this comprehensive periodontal exam needs to done annually – so seek regular preventive care.

Perhaps most important, good home care to keep your mouth healthy and should include:

Taking extra care of your mouth is essential when avoiding lung problems. Regular visits with both your dentist and primary care physician will ensure that you can manage them if they crop up. At the end of the day, knowing the connection will keep you healthier and protect your smile for a lifetime.

About the author: Donna Rounsaville, RDH, BS, has been a dental hygienist in private practice for 31 years. She has used her experience with the prevention of dental problems and the importance of healthy eating to educate children in local schools in her hometown of Flemington, New Jersey. Donna is also passionate about infection control and office safety for dental workers, providing yearly training to her office colleagues. Active with the Girl Scouts as a leader and with children's liturgy at her church, Donna uses her communication and leadership skills to motivate young people in her community. She has been writing for Colgate since 2013.