A good oral routine doesn't just prevent tooth decay and gum disease; it can also protect your lungs. Bacteria that live in the mouth long enough can naturally enter the lungs and cause respiratory problems over time. It may also aggravate chronic lung diseases already present. But adopting healthy habits and performing breathing exercises reduces your risk of poor lung health.
How the Mouth Affects the Lungs
Poor oral health can increase the symptoms of emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other long-term lung conditions such as pneumonia. In addition, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, there is a notable link between periodontal disease and emphysema. Ramsey A. Amin, DDS mentions that periodontal disease can also make COPD worse.
Brushing twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste such as Colgate Total® Advanced Deep Clean, while flossing once per day, helps to improve oral health and prevent the gum disease that leads to these respiratory disorders. For this reason, the AAP recommends an annual periodontal exam as well.
Lifestyle changes beyond your efforts at the sink can greatly improve lung health. Jennifer M. Ryan, physical therapist for the Rush University Medical Center (RUMC), emphasizes the importance of drinking fluids regularly to keep the lungs as hydrated as the rest of your body. Well-hydrated lungs have thin mucosal linings, which help the lungs function well. Moderate exercise such as walking or swimming is another gateway to good lung health, as you might expect, but Ryan also prescribes laughter for forcing out stale air and allowing fresh air to fill more areas of the lungs.
Good dietary habits go hand in hand with good oral and lung health. Foods and drinks that are particularly good for dental health include fruit, vegetables, dairy products, black and green tea and sugarless chewing gum. Meanwhile, the American Lung Association suggests much of the same things to strengthen your lungs' respiratory muscles. This includes whole grain pasta and bread, fruit and vegetables and good-quality protein sources such as eggs, cheese, milk, meat, fish, poultry, peas, nuts and dried beans.
The right exercises open up the lungs, improving lung capacity and reducing the symptoms of poor aerobic health. Keith Roberts, Director of Respiratory Therapy at RUMC, advises diaphragmatic breathing. The key to this technique is lowering the muscle that separates the lungs from the abdomen, the diaphragm, when breathing in.
- As you slowly breathe in, expand the belly first, then the lower ribs and then the upper ribs. This allows the chest to lift upward.
- Reverse the process when you exhale, allowing the upper then the lower ribs to fall. Then contract the stomach in and upward to force out as much air as you can.
- Count to yourself as you breathe in and out, so the time it takes for each process is roughly the same.
- Gradually increase the length of your inhalations and exhalations to improve lung capacity, but only insofar as it still feels comfortable.
Stretch and Breathe
Another simple exercise recommended by Jennifer M. Ryan is to regularly stretch and breathe when sitting – something people naturally overlook when they're not on the move.
- Sit tall and reach both arms overhead to open up the lungs, while breathing deeply.
- Or, sitting in a stable chair, lean slightly backward, lift the chest and open out the front of your body as you take a deep breath in.
For those who deal specifically with poor breathing capacity, the University of Rochester Medical Center suggests pursed-lips breathing.
- Press your lips together, but with a small opening at the center.
- Breathe normally, but in through the nose and out through the mouth.
- Take twice as long breathing out as you do breathing in.
Reducing the bacteria in the mouth does great things for the lungs as well as the teeth. Whether you're protecting against lung disease or trying to curb the symptoms of a chronic lung condition, it makes sense to look after both parts of your body.
Learn more about good oral hygiene in the Colgate Oral Care resources.