Pneumonia is a serious infection that could turn a minor cold into a life-threatening condition. Although in the past we used to believe that the majority of pneumonia germs were acquired from outside sources, recent research indicates that the oral bacteria responsible for gum disease and cavities may play a larger role than previously suspected.
This means that making regular visits to a dentist might help prevent pneumonia.
Pneumonia is one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the US, and the leading cause of death among persons over the age of 80. Pneumonia can be caused by a bacterial infection, viral infection, or fungal infection of the lungs. The proper treatment (and ultimate odds of survival), depend on what type of organism causes the infection.
There are normally three causes cited for pneumonia:
You can see that in the latter two causes gum disease could certainly play a major role. Gum disease allows bacteria to thrive in great numbers, and because they are already in your mouth, they have bypassed a great deal of your body’s mechanisms for filtering them out (such as your skin and nostrils).
When microorganisms reach your lungs, they damage the lung tissue, which causes your body to respond. The response causes your lung tissue to swell, and to produce excess fluid, both of which make it harder to breathe and get the oxygen your body needs.
The reason why we haven’t thought that oral bacteria play a role in pneumonia is that doctors decide what type of organism is in the lungs using cultures. Cultures grow bacteria in the lab, but anaerobic bacteria–the kind that causes bad breath–don’t normally grow in cultures. And when oral bacteria are found in cultures, doctors assume that they come from contamination of the sample in the mouth.
To get around this problem, researchers in a recent study took samples directly from the lungs of 64 people, eliminating the possibility of contamination in the mouth, then tested them using two different methods, the culturing that is normally used and genetic testing.
They found that the usual suspects–Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae, and Mycoplasma pneumoniae–were present in 17.6% to 18.8% of samples, but so were organisms previously unsuspected in pneumonia, anaerobes and oral bacteria, both of which were found in 15.6% of samples.
Although this study doesn’t definitively connect gum disease and pneumonia, it does show that gum disease may have a role in this deadly illness, as it does in so many serious health problems.
And this theory recently gained additional support from a study showing that people who sleep with their dentures in–which allows oral bacteria to thrive on them–have essentially double the risk of developing pneumonia over those who take them out at night.
With the seriousness of this potential connection, it’s important to remember to make your regular visits to the dentist to control gum disease. Please call 509-368-7788 for an appointment with a dentist in Spokane Valley at Collins Dentistry & Aesthetics.
Or office in Spokane is located at:
3151 E. 28th Ave.
Spokane, WA 99223
Office phone # 509-368-7788