Poor Oral Health Speeds Up Irreversible Lung Disease: Study

Authored by George Citroner via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

(SciePro/Shutterstock)

That persistent cough and wheezing is bad enough without gum disease making it worse. New research reveals why periodontitis, a common gum infection, accelerates the progression of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the irreversible and often deadly lung condition affecting almost 16 million Americans.

Chinese scientists have discovered how bacteria from inflamed gums can travel to the lungs, exacerbating COPD symptoms. The findings from Sichuan University offer hope for new treatment possibilities for managing the breath-stealing disease.

Oral Bacteria Directly Trigger Flare-Ups in COPD Lungs

COPD, encompassing emphysema and chronic bronchitis, is the world’s sixth leading cause of death.

The condition is quietly hurting millions of Americans, as many are unaware they have it. In the United States, cigarette smoking drives most COPD cases, while cooking over open fires drives cases in underdeveloped countries, Dr. Norman Edelman, a pulmonologist at Stony Brook Medicine, professor of internal medicine, and core member of the public health program at Stony Brook University, told The Epoch Times.

COPD impedes airflow and breathing by damaging the airways and lungs. Key symptoms are coughing, excess mucus, and wheezing. Patients also suffer acute exacerbations where symptoms abruptly worsen for days.

While prior research has linked mouth infections to COPD progression, the exact mechanisms were unclear. A 2018 study posited the two were only connected by smoking as a shared risk factor.

The new research from Sichuan University, published in the American Society for Microbiology Journals, finds gum disease pathogens directly associate with COPD flare-ups by activating lung immune cells, which increase lung inflammation-driving bacteria. The researchers demonstrated this in animal models.

“We’ll further carry out additional studies on human subjects to confirm the mechanism,” microbiologist and co-study author Yan Li said in a press statement. “Our findings could lead to a potential new strategy for treating COPD.”

The study shows how poor dental care enables oral bacteria like P. gingivalis to enter the lungs, said Dr. Thomas Kilkenny, director of critical care in pulmonary medicine at Staten Island University Hospital, who was not involved in the research.

“This sets up chronic levels of inflammation beyond that found in COPD,” he told The Epoch Times. Although the various bacteria alone can cause an increased number of respiratory infections, “the heart of the study was the inflammatory cells,” he noted.

Circulating oral bacteria trigger the overproduction of immune signaling chemicals called cytokines. The cytokines spark harmful inflammation and disturb normal lung structures, Dr. Kilkenny said.

70 Percent of COPD Cases Due to Smoking

The root cause behind most preventable COPD cases is cigarette smoking. Smoking activates lung immune cells to release cytokines, fueling inflammation, Dr. Kilkenny added. Smoking accounts for 70 percent of cases.

Nonsmoking risk factors include:

  • A history of childhood lung infections.
  • A history of asthma.
  • Smoke from home cooking and heating fuels.
  • Secondhand tobacco smoke.
  • Genetic mutations that can cause the disease.

Vitamin D deficiency may also raise COPD risk. A 2020 meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials found many COPD patients to be vitamin D deficient. Further, vitamin D supplements helped improve lung function for these patients.

Fight Gum Infections to Maintain Overall Health: Expert

While the study could result in future COPD treatments, that lies far in the future, according to Dr. Edelman. He stressed that it would be better for people to take care of their periodontal health.

“To me, the real story, which many people don’t know, is that periodontal disease is a risk factor for systemic disease,” he said. These diseases include diabetes and heart disease.

The prevalence of gum infections in disadvantaged communities constitutes a significant public health issue, he noted.

Specifically, Dr. Edelman said he had observed about one-third of low-income kids on Long Island, where he practices, having tooth decay or gum disease. Getting the word out on the health impacts tied to poor oral health should take priority over any long-term therapeutic implications of this research, he noted.

“It’s the more important public health story.”

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