Dental News

Poor teeth damage lungs

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Bad teeth and gums may make existing lung problems worse, researchers have found.

The scientists, from the University of Buffalo, say their findings show how important it is that people who suffer from chronic lung disease are fastidious about brushing and flossing their teeth.

The Buffalo team analysed data on 13,792 people collected from across the US for a study into health and nutrition.

They found a strong link between gum disease and long-term problems with the respiratory system.

Previous research has suggested that poor oral health is linked to a number of chronic diseases.

Lead researcher Dr Frank Scannapieco said the mechanism linking oral health and lung disease was not clear.

However, he suspects that bacteria in the mouth are likely to be to blame.

He said: “It is possible that bacteria that normally stick to the teeth are sloughed into the saliva and may be breathed into the upper airways, changing that environment and paving the way for other germs to infect the lower airways.

“Oral conditions likely work together with other factors, such as smoking, environmental pollutants, allergies and genetics to make existing lung problems worse.”

Natural teeth

The people who took part in the study were at least 20 years old and had at least six natural teeth.

They filled out questionnaires about their history of respiratory disease and carried out a test to measure the capacity of their lungs.

They also underwent a thorough dental examination.

Dr Scannapieco said: “We aren’t saying that if you don’t brush, you’ll develop lung disease.

“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 world-wide.”

The British Dental Association said the research revealed some “interesting findings”.

A spokesperson said: “This follows on from other recent research results which have shown a strong association between gum disease and other illnesses including coronary heart disease and strokes.

“However, it should be noted that none of these findings have been substantiated.

“The findings need to be looked at more closely before any link can be proven.”

The research is published in the Journal of Periodontology.

Dr John Harvey, of the British Thoracic Society, said: We have been aware of a link between poor oral hygeine and lung infections, especially pneumonia, but this is the first study that I`m aware of that shows a link with lung function.

“This is therefore another reason for people with lung disease to pay special attention to keeping their teeth and gums healthy- advice that no doubt dentists and oral hygeinists will pass on to their patients with lung disease.”