Periodontitis, also known as gum disease, or periodontal disease, has been linked to respiratory disease in recent medical studies. Researchers have concluded that periodontal disease can worsen chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and may actually play a contributing role in contracting respiratory related illnesses, like pneumonia, bronchitis and emphysema. COPD is a prominent cause of death and should be taken seriously.
Periodontal disease, commonly known as periodontitis and gum disease, is a progressive disease which affects the supporting and surrounding tissues of the gums and underlying jawbone. If left untreated, periodontal diseases can result in loose, unstable teeth, and eventually complete tooth loss. Periodontal disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults in the developed world, and is a condition that can contribute to a wide array of other life-threatening illnesses, and therefore should not be taken lightly. Generally, bacterial respiratory infections occur due to the inhalation of fine infected droplets into the lungs.
Reasons for the Connection between Respiratory and Periodontal Disease:
Bacterial spread – The specific type of oral bacterium that causes periodontal disease can easily be drawn into the lower respiratory tract via inhalation, and once the bacteria are given the opportunity to colonize in the lungs, it can cause serious respiratory illnesses, including pneumonia, and exacerbate chronic conditions such as COPD.
Low immunity – Patients who experience chronic or persistent respiratory problems are often found to be immune compromised. This low immunity allows oral bacteria to embed itself above and below the gum line without being challenged by the body’s natural defenses. The lack of defense serves to accelerate the progression of periodontal disease, as well as putting the sufferer at increased risk of developing other respiratory illnesses, including emphysema, pneumonia, and COPD.
Modifiable factors – Smoking is not the sole cause of periodontal disease, but it is certainly an avoidable risk factor. Thought to be the leading cause of COPD, smoking and tobacco use can damage the gingiva, and compromise the integrity of a patient’s oral cavity. Additionally, tobacco use hinders the healing process, causing gum pockets to grow deeper, which in turn accelerates attachment loss.
Inflammation – Periodontal disease causes the inflammation and irritation of oral tissue. A current scientific hypothesis is that the oral bacteria causing the irritation may contribute to inflammation that may limit the amount of air that can freely pass to the lungs. This is primarily due to increase inflammation of the lining of the lungs, making it difficult to breathe.
Diagnosis and Treatment
It is essential that a patient recently diagnosed with respiratory and periodontal disease, consult with the primary care provider and dentist, so that they may begin to function as a team in an effort to control both conditions. If a dentist is able to assess the extent of the inflammation and tissue loss, and deems it to be less significant, they will be able to treat the bacterial infection easily. There are many non-surgical and surgical options available, depending on the specific condition of the teeth, gums and jaw, such as scaling procedures that cleanse the pockets of debris, and root planning to smooth the tooth root and eliminate any remaining bacteria.
Depending on the level of treatment, there are many benefits of addressing periodontal disease quickly and efficiently. First, any discomfort in the oral region may be significantly reduced, and the gums will be much healthier. Second, the frequent, unpleasant respiratory infections associated with common respiratory problems, like pneumonia, bronchitis, as well as COPD, will reduce significantly.
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