Surprise Link: Dental Health and Lung Health

Looking at the Tongue

Did you know that if you’ve got clean teeth, it’s very likely you’ve got clean lungs as well? Past studies among senior residents in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and hospitals show that at least.

Scientists from Kyushu University in Japan did a study among 506 septuagenarians in the town of Hisayama by scraping their tongues using a modified an electric toothbrush during a routine health check-up. The team intended to find samples of potentially threatening microbes in saliva that these people might have breathed in and caused pneumonia. They wanted to know what these microbes are. Together with details of the volunteer’s dental state, the microbes were counted and categorised based on their genes and match them with characteristics such as tooth decay and gingivitis.

They found two predominant groups of bacteria. One contained species that included Prevotella histicola, Veillonella atypica, Streptococcus salivarius, and Streptococcus parasanguinis. These microbes don’t sound familiar but they are mostly found among the elderly and are associated with an increased risk of dying from pneumonia. They are also more common in the aged with fewer teeth, higher plaque index, and teeth that have had caries. If they have poor oral hygiene, they tend to also have fungi in their mouths.

While a comprehensive health check was done on them, their health history or habits were not detailed. So why is there an increased risk of mortality from pneumonia in these people? What could have altered the microbes in their mouths?

The researchers say that it’s fair to assume that if we don’t take care of our teeth, we can suffer the consequences of medical conditions not even related with our mouths. It can be dying from pneumonia or heart disease even. Do we need more reasons to keep our mouths healthy or to stop smoking? To health practitioners, in particular dentists, the researchers say that careful attention should be given to the microbiota of the tongue in elderly patients who show poorer dental state. It may carry an increased risk of pneumonia in the lungs.

Taking Care of the Elderly’s Teeth in Downtown Seattle

We advise our patients and their families to always look after their oral health with proper oral hygiene, good habits and diet, and regular dental appointments. We take care of our teeth and they in turn will serve us well into our old age.