On topic with Dr. Dill: Breathing easier with a healthy mouth

Poor oral health can have negative effects on your overall well-being, according to Delta Dental Plans Association Adult Oral Health & Well-Being 2020 Survey. In fact, gum disease has been linked to heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. But unhealthy gums can also make it harder to breathe.

How does this happen? Billions of mostly harmless microbes — bacteria, viruses and fungi — linger in your mouth and can travel to your lungs as you breathe. 

If you have poor dental habits, you can have significantly more bacteria in your saliva. As bacteria, plaque and tartar build up along and below your gumline, your gums may become irritated, inflamed and infected — all signs of gum disease. 

Almost half of all adults 30 and older show signs of gum disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How gum disease can lead to lung disease

Research shows that gum disease can increase the likelihood of developing respiratory problems such as bronchitis or pneumonia, especially in those who are elderly, live in a nursing home or have other health conditions. 

Tongue bacteria examined by Japanese scientists in a research study showed a correlation between gum disease and the development of pneumonia and other respiratory diseases in elderly patients. 

Another study showed one in 10 deaths from pneumonia among nursing home residents could have been prevented with better dental hygiene, according to the Journal of Dental Research.

Severe respiratory problems are a hallmark of COVID-19, with about one in five COVID-19 patients developing these complications, according to the California Dental Association. A recent study showed that people with gum disease may be at greater risk of developing severe COVID-19 respiratory problems.

To prevent respiratory problems, make sure you’re following six essential steps to keep your mouth healthy. 

The 6 steps for maintaining oral health

1. Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste for two full minutes each time.


2. Floss daily to remove plaque and any food stuck between teeth.

3. Visit your dentist regularly for preventive care. 


4. Change your toothbrush or brush head every three to four months, or sooner if bristles become worn.

5. Maintain a healthy diet, including fruits, vegetables, dairy, lean proteins and lots of water.

6. Avoid all forms of tobacco including vaping.


Taking care of your teeth and gums can help protect your overall health — and even prevent or reduce the severity of lung problems.

Meet Joseph Dill, DDS, Delta Dental’s Vice President of Dental Science and Network Strategy. With more than 30 years of experience in the dental field, including eight in private practice and 16 in dental insurance, Dr. Dill provides expert insights and helpful advice to keep you smiling bright.