Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. This condition prevents the lungs from working effectively which makes breathing difficult. Over 12 million people in the U.S. are known to have COPD and many more have it but have not been diagnosed. The symptoms of COPD come on slowly and get progressively worse. Because there is no cure, scientists are working to find ways to prevent COPD from developing.
A new study published in the Journal of Periodontology suggested that taking good care of teeth and gums can reduce the risk of COPD and other respiratory infections. Poor dental care, including the failure to brush and floss teeth, can lead to bacteria collecting on teeth as well as infections in the gums. When we breathe in, bacteria from the mouth and upper throat can travel with the air into the lungs and cause infections there. This can increase the risk of developing COPD as a result of repeated infections that can weaken the lungs.
COPD is often caused by smoking or exposure to other lung irritants such as air pollution, fumes from chemicals, or dust. Inside the lungs there are thousands of tiny round air sacs. When you breathe in, these sacs expand as they fill with air. Oxygen passes through the thin membrane wall of the sacs into the blood. At the same time, waste products including carbon dioxide pass from the blood into the sacs. When you breathe out, the sacs contract which helps push the air out of your lungs.
In patients with COPD, these air sacs become less elastic and lose their ability to expand and contract. Sometimes the thin membrane wall between sacs becomes damaged so that several small sacs merge into one larger sac. Damaged air sacs are less able to expand to take air in or contract to push air out. The airways in the lungs also produce small amounts of mucus to moisturize the tissues. In COPD, the airways may produce too much mucus. This can clog the narrow passages and keep air from getting through. Patients with COPD often feel tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, wheezing, and may cough up a lot of excess mucus.