The Hidden Connection between Your Teeth and Your Lungs
Mom always told us to brush and floss our teeth in order to prevent cavities, but it turns out the proper dental hygiene has benefits that extend far beyond our teeth.
Because we ingest the bacteria in our mouths as we eat, the bacteria in our mouths, known as oral microbiota, affect the bacteria in our digestive tract. Gut bacteria has long been linked with a vast number of conditions including obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer — and even depression and anxiety.
However, in new research published in the journal mSphere, a team of dental scientists showed how oral microbiota are connected directly with the lungs. The authors explained that not only does oral bacteria reach our gut, but we also inhale it, thereby directly affecting our lungs. This is particularly true for older people, who are at higher risk for swallowing difficulties and reflux. Inhaling oral microbiota, the researchers found, can lead to pulmonary infections.
Using advanced genetic techniques, known as 16S rRNA genetic sequencing, the researchers were able to determine the precise density and composition of the microbiota in a group of elderly. The results were conclusive: elderly people with large amounts of unhealthy tongue bacteria were at far greater risk of death from pneumonia than those with smaller amounts. These unhealthy bacteria were found mainly in seniors with more plaque, more cavities, fewer teeth, and those who wore dentures.
Pneumonia is a serious health problem among the elderly: in the United States, more than 500,000 seniors are hospitalized each year with a diagnosis of pneumonia; approximately 10% of them succumb to the disease.
Maintaining one’s health often seems to involve a tremendous amount of discipline in many areas. It is good to know that by simply brushing your teeth twice a day and having regular dental checkups, you can significantly improve your health.
Laurel Bay Health and Rehabilitation Center, in the scenic beach town of Keansburg, NJ, specializes in pulmonary care. Headed by leading pulmonary specialist Dr. Avtar Parhar, our program is the most highly advanced pulmonary rehabilitation program in Monmouth County. At Laurel Bay, we focus on restorative and preventive care for those who suffer with chronic respiratory disease.
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