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Mary Ann Hanlon, DDS, MS
Practice Limited to Periodontics

Periodontal Disease and Respiratory Disease

Periodontal disease is a progressive condition, generally beginning with a bacterial infection of the gums.  The bacteria found in plaque colonize in gingival tissue, causing an inflammatory response in which both gum and bone are destroyed.    As the disease progresses, the gums recede and the teeth appear to "lengthen".  Left untreated, erosion of the bone causes a less stable base for the teeth and eventual tooth loss.

Recent studies have linked periodontal disease to a number of respiratory diseases, including pneumonia, COPD and bronchitis. 

Reasons for the Connection

Listed below are some of the ways periodontal disease is thought to cause or exacerbate respiratory diseases: 

  • Bacterial spread – The oral bacteria that cause periodontal disease can be drawn into the lower respiratory tract.  Once these bacteria colonize in the lungs, they can cause pneumonia and worsen serious conditions, such as COPD.

  • Low immunity – Most people who experience chronic or persistent respiratory problems suffer from a suppressed immune response.  In an immunosuppressed state, oral bacteria can more easily penetrate the gingival tissues.  Not only does this accelerate the progression of periodontal disease, it also puts the sufferer at increased risk of developing emphysema, pneumonia and COPD.

  • Modifiable factors – Smoking is thought to be the leading cause of COPD and other chronic respiratory conditions.  Tobacco use also damages the gingiva and compromises the health of the entire oral cavity.  It slows the healing process, causes pockets of infection within the gums to grow deeper and  accelerates attachment loss. 

  • Inflammation – Periodontal disease causes inflammation and irritation of oral tissues.  It is likely that the  bacteria causing the irritation could also contribute to inflammation of the lung lining.

Diagnosis and Treatment

When respiratory disease and periodontal disease are diagnosed in one individual, it is important for the periodontist and the physician to function as a team in controlling both conditions.  There are many non-surgical and surgical options available, depending on the specific condition of the teeth, gums and jaw.

The periodontist is able to assess the extent of the inflammation and tissue loss and can treat the bacterial infection within the oral cavity.  Scaling procedures cleanse the pockets of debris and root planing smoothes the tooth root to eliminate any remaining bacteria.  Antibiotics may also be placed in the pockets to promote good healing and reduce the risk of the infection returning.

Successful management of oral infections not only reduces the risk of tooth loss, but may also result in a healthier respiratory system. 

 If you have any concerns about respiratory disease or periodontal disease, please ask your periodontist.

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