How Oral Bacteria Affect Your Lungs

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Tooth decay, tender gums and periodontal disease are all signs of poor oral health, but did you know they also increase the risk of lung infection? When oral bacteria travel from the mouth to the lungs, they can give way to things like pneumonia, increasing one's symptoms of chronic respiratory conditions such as emphysema.

There is a clear link between poor oral health and chronic respiratory disease. A study published by the American Academy of Periodontology found that people with respiratory diseases had worse periodontal health than those with healthy lungs. Here's how this connection can manifest.

Good and Bad Bacteria

In a healthy mouth, beneficial and harmful bacteria exist in balance. But when harmful bacteria grow out of control, they can pose problems for teeth, gums, underlying oral structures and the rest of the body – including the lungs. According to RDH Magazine, the average healthy mouth contains up to 650 species of bacteria. An overgrowth of the harmful species causes tooth decay, inflamed, bleeding gums and similar dental problems. SUNY Buffalo suggests about 80 percent of Americans suffer from some form of gum disease, and about 20 percent suffer from periodontal disease, which occurs below the gums.

The best way to prevent excessive harmful bacteria in the mouth is to practice good oral hygiene. Brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, floss once a day and follow through with your semiannual dental visit. Using a mouthwash that controls oral germs, such as Colgate Total® Advanced Pro-Shield™ Mouthwash, also helps keep the mouth in a state wherein only the good germs survive.

Breathing in Harmful Bacteria

Because bacteria enter the lungs when you inhale, harmful bacteria can live and grow there. In fact, as you breathe in and out, according to the Dental Faculty Practice at the University of Missouri, tiny droplets of saliva are carried to and from the mouth with each breath.

Your immune system can usually prevent bacteria that enter the lungs from causing problems, but the lung tissue can still become irritated and inflamed. The bacteria can also cause bronchitis and pneumonia, and make conditions such as emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease worse. For those suffering from chronic lung diseases, harmful oral bacteria can reduce the success of your go-to treatments and medications as well.

Oral Bacteria in the Blood

When gum disease and advanced periodontal disease start to break down oral tissues, they allow oral bacteria to leak into the bloodstream and eventually access the lungs. This breakdown takes place as a result of about 500 microorganisms in the mouth that weaken the gums and underlying bone that normally block these germs from traveling. Eventually, however, the bacteria break through into the bloodstream, and body-wide inflammation can occur in response to the waste products they produce, as stated by the Dental Faculty Practice.

Dental problems such as gum disease and periodontal disease are often only discovered during a dental visit, yet they can cause serious lung infections, prevent treatments for chronic lung diseases from working well and make symptoms of these conditions worse. The good news is that a high standard of oral hygiene offers some protection from harmful bacteria entering the lungs.