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How your gums can affect your lungs

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Did you know that practicing good oral hygiene could help your lungs? Poor oral health can directly contribute to a variety of respiratory diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Gum disease can aggravate existing symptoms of COPD and make flare-ups more likely, according to a 2011 study in the Journal of Periodontology.

What is COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is one of the most common respiratory diseases. The third leading cause of death in the United States, COPD is estimated to affect more than 11 million people, according to the Lung Institute. COPD is a disease of the lungs that makes it hard to breathe. It's an ongoing condition and not fully treatable.

Typically, patients are diagnosed after the age of 40, and because the symptoms develop slowly, it's often mistaken for other health issues. As a result, COPD is one of the most underdiagnosed diseases worldwide. Symptoms include excessive coughing, spitting up abnormal mucus, an on-going shortness of breath and limited lung function.

If you're a heavy tobacco smoker, you're more likely to develop COPD, but even non-smokers can develop the disease if they already suffer from asthma, bronchitis or sleep apnea. If you've been exposed to a lot of environmental pollutants like heavy smog, you may end up fighting COPD too.

Understand your body

Our bodies are like a big puzzle - each piece and function is tied to another. So if you haven't been taking care of your oral health, you could be setting yourself up for more trouble, even with your lungs. When bacteria that comes from environmental factors (like bad smog) combine with a buildup of bacteria in your mouth, it can actually end up damaging your lung tissue. This results in a higher risk of developing a respiratory infection.

If you already have a pre-existing condition, like asthma or bronchitis, this "buildup combination" can make the things even worse, so it's important you tell your dentist if you're noticing any new or worsening problems related to your oral health. Genetics, lifestyle and other stressors can also contribute to asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory problems.

Prevent the symptoms

If you suffer from COPD, remember to take care of your mouth to help prevent aggravation from gum disease. Visiting your dentist regularly to improve your gum health can help alleviate COPD symptoms. If you have COPD, you should stop using tobacco products to limit further damage to your lungs. Always maintain good oral hygiene, and brush regularly.

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Last updated: April 2018

The oral health information on this web site is intended for educational purposes only. You should always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.

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