woman using inhaler to aid breathing

Good Dental Health Can Prevent Respiratory Illnesses

White teeth and pink gums aren't the only benefit of a good dental health routine; you can also reduce the risks of respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia, emphysema and asthma. When you inhale, bacteria from your mouth travels into the lungs on droplets of saliva. If these germs grow out of your control, they can migrate to the lungs and cause other illnesses.

The Pneumonia Connection

Periodontal disease is a common disease of the gums, and according to Dentistry Today, has a considerable influence on the respiratory system. A variety of bacteria live in your mouth, and some thrive on sugary or starchy foods. Eating these foods causes the bacteria to build up and form plaque, to which the gums react with inflammation. Over time, periodontal disease develops, destroying the gum tissue and bone supporting your jaw. Another effect of this bacterial growth, however, is that it is breathed into the lungs. Most people regularly inhale small amounts of oral, bacteria-carrying secretions, but their bodies' natural defenses can usually deal with the problem. Unfortunately, if the bacteria are not eliminated by the immune system, bacterial pneumonia can take root in the lungs.

People at higher-than-average risk of this pneumonia are often using sedatives or suffering from Parkinson's disease, stroke or alcohol abuse. Therefore, these people breathe in excessive oral secretions all the time. Other high-risk groups include smokers, those with poor diets, corticosteroid users, patients of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and diabetics. The immune systems of people in these groups are generally weaker than they need to be in order to fend off otherwise normal bacteria.

Dental Health and Asthma

The reverse is true, too, as asthma medications can actually cause problems with one's dental health. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment suggests asthma medications such as adrenergic agonists and corticosteroids can cause dry mouth, wherein saliva production is reduced. Saliva has a protective effect, so lacking amounts can lead to an increase in the germs that cause tooth decay and gum disease. Corticosteroids have also been linked to increase in oral fungal infections such as thrush.

Asthma sufferers are also more likely to suffer from periodontal disease. A study by the Journal of Periodontology, which assessed 220 individuals for periodontal disease and severe asthma, found those who suffered from periodontal disease were five times more likely to also suffer from severe asthma.

Other Risks

Oral bacteria that spreads from the gums to the lungs increases your risk for other respiratory illnesses as well as pneumonia. Gum disease that causes bleeding can lead to periodontal disease, which, according to the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP), worsens the symptoms of COPD, a long-term disease of the lungs. This can give way to illnesses such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema, and affects up to 15 million people in the U.S., as stated by Dentistry Today.

A regular oral health care routine that involves twice-a-day brushing and once-a-day flossing reduces both the bacterial population in your mouth and your risk of respiratory illness. In addition to a fluoridated toothpaste, you can also help keep your mouth clean with Colgate Total® Advanced Pro-Shield™ Mouthwash while on the go.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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