Unhealthy Gums Linked to Worsening Lung Disease

Tuesday January 30 2001, 10:31 AM ET

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – The simple act of brushing and flossing your teeth may help keep lung ailments in check, a new study reports.

Researchers at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York, believe that as gums recede due to poor oral health, respiratory illnesses like bronchitis and emphysema worsen.

“We aren’t saying that if you don’t brush your teeth you’ll develop lung disease,” lead author Dr. Frank A. Scannapieco said in a statement from the university. “We’re saying that if you already have lung disease, taking care of your teeth and gums is especially important. It’s possible that improved oral health is one factor that may help prevent progression of this disease, which is responsible for 2.2 million deaths a year worldwide.”

In the study, Scannapieco and Dr. Alex W. Ho evaluated information from 13,792 participants who took part in the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey III.

The data included results of physical examinations that measured lung function and ascertained overall oral health including gum disease, gum recession and the number of cavities.

“A trend was noted in that lung function appeared to diminish with increasing (gum recession),” the authors write in the Journal of Periodontology.

Bacteria in the mouth from poor oral hygiene likely are to blame. “Accumulation of disease-causing organisms associated with gum disease may increase the risk for serious lower-respiratory-tract infection in susceptible subjects,” Scannapieco said in a statement.

“It is possible that bacteria that normally stick to teeth are sloughed into the saliva and may be breathed into the upper airways, changing the environment and paving the way for other germs to infect the lower airways. Oral conditions likely work with other factors, such as smoking, environmental pollutants, allergies and genetics to make existing lung problems worse,” Scannapieco added.

“The findings of the present analysis support recently published reports that suggest an association between periodontal disease and (pulmonary disease),” the researchers conclude.

The authors note that while poor oral health alone is not responsible for lung disease, “it is conceivable that improved oral health may help prevent the progression of this disease.”

SOURCE: Journal of Periodontology 2001;72:50-56.

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