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How Oral Bacteria Affects Your Lungs

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Oral health is more important than you may know. When oral health is poor, naturally-occurring bacteria from your mouth can spread to your lungs, causing further issues. That's why taking care of your teeth, gums, and other parts of your mouth is critical. Learn more about oral bacteria, how it can affect your lungs, and how you can stay healthy.

How are Oral Health and Overall Health Connected?

There is a clear link between poor oral health and respiratory disease.

Cavities and gum disease are all signs of poor oral health. Did you know those issues increase the risk of lung infection? When bacteria travels from the mouth to the lungs, they can lead to pneumonia and increase the risk of emphysema.

What is Oral Bacteria?

In a healthy mouth, over 700 different bacteria exist in balance. Some of these are beneficial, and others can be harmful. When bacteria grow out of control, they can pose problems for teeth, gums, and the rest of the mouth. If you don't keep up with oral hygiene or leave cavities or gingivitis untreated, this bacteria can start to affect the rest of the body, including the lungs and heart.

Can a Tooth Infection Cause Breathing Problems

An overgrowth of the harmful bacteria can cause tooth decay, inflamed, bleeding gums, and similar dental problems. When those issues are untreated, you may get an infection. The bacteria can further spread to your lungs, heart, and other systems. For example, this bacteria can cause bronchitis and pneumonia and worsen conditions such as emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Talk to your physician or dentist if you're having trouble breathing or have a cough that won't go away.

Breathing in Harmful Bacteria

According to the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, there are two pathways that oral bacteria reach other systems. First, we breathe—or aspirate—bacteria into our lungs. According to the University of Missouri, tiny saliva droplets are carried to and from the mouth as you breathe. This bacteria can be held in your saliva.

We breathe in germs all the time. It's natural. Your immune system typically prevents bacteria from making you sick. However, if your immune system is already taxed because of oral health issues, lung tissue can become irritated and inflamed.

Oral Bacteria in the Blood

The second pathway of bacteria into the rest of the body is through the bloodstream. As gum disease breaks down gum tissues, it leaves your mouth vulnerable to further infection. The bacteria enter into the bloodstream and can cause body-wide inflammation.

Good Oral Hygiene is Key

The best way to prevent harmful bacteria overgrowth in the mouth is to practice good oral hygiene. Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, clean between your teeth daily with floss, flossers, or interdental brushes, and keep dental checkups with your dentist and dental hygienist. Your dental hygienist may also recommend using an antiseptic mouthrinse as well.

This information may seem concerning. But the good news is that preventive care and good hygiene habits can prevent gum disease and prevent it from causing problems in other parts of your body. Working with your primary care physician or specialist in treating any issues that occur promptly can help prevent lasting damage to your lungs.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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