a plastic model of human lungsScience continues to link gum disease to many systemic health problems, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer. Scientists have highlighted its relationship with respiratory diseases, as well, including asthma, COPD, and pneumonia.

Some have suggested that this may be due to dental plaque harboring respiratory pathogens which may then be inhaled into the lungs.

Now, new research in Experimental Gerontology suggests that for older adults, periodontal disease may also raise the risk of death from respiratory illness.

Researchers in Shanghai analyzed health records from nearly 1400 senior adults, including dental exams, panoramic x-rays, comorbid conditions, and demographic info. After crunching the numbers, they saw that gum disease and dying from respiratory illness were related. The more severe the gum disease, the greater the risk of dying.

There’s “substantial evidence that poor periodontal health is associated with respiratory disease in the older patients, particularly in smokers and patients with BMI < 25” the authors concluded.

Of course, gum disease is largely preventable, starting with brushing at least twice daily, flossing (or otherwise cleaning interdentally) at least once a day, and getting regular cleanings from your biological dentist. If you don’t smoke, don’t start, and if you do smoke or vape, quit. That, plus a healthy diet and exercise, plenty of water, and quality sleep are the basics for good oral and overall health.

And if you already have it? Treatment is key. In fact, research suggests that perio treatment may reduce your blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and even help those with chronic conditions like diabetes, arthritis, or kidney disease better manage symptoms. This can mean lower overall healthcare costs, too.

Preventing or treating gum disease should be a priority in maintaining overall health and minimizing your risk for systemic infections and diseases. The price of untreated periodontal disease – especially now – is just too important to ignore.

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