Good oral habits for preventing pneumonia
SUMMARY: The same types of microorganisms that cause bad breath can also lead to pneumonia, which is why it's important to practice good oral health habits.
Posted: April 1, 2014
With March coming to a close, flu and pneumonia season is almost over. But winter isn't the only time you can catch pneumonia - this common condition affects millions of Americans across the country year round. There are many ways to avoid the illness, from washing your hands regularly to getting vaccinations. Many are surprised to hear that keeping the oral cavity clean using the same methods that promote fresh breath can also help stave off the ailment.
What is pneumonia?
Pneumonia is an infection that causes the air sacs in the lungs to become inflamed due to pus or another fluid. That's why people who have this condition often cough up phlegm. Other symptoms include chills, fever and a hard time breathing. Antiviral drugs and antibiotics can cure pneumonia, but if left untreated, it can become life threatening, especially among children, the elderly and other individuals with fragile immune systems. There are many things that can cause the infection, from fungus to viruses; however, the most common culprit among adults is bacteria.
How does poor oral care increase my risk?
Pneumonia is usually exacerbated by bacteria - the same type of microorganisms that lead to gum disease and pungent breath. When a person does not practice good oral care habits, that bacteria accumulates and grows. It can then be transferred to the lungs when you swallow.
Pneumonia can also move into the nose and sinus cavities, increasing the chance of the bacteria spreading to the lungs when you breathe in. When caught due to inhalation, it's referred to as aspiration pneumonia, and one symptom of this illness is bad breath. Older people are particularly prone to developing this form of the ailment because the elderly are more likely to have gum disease coupled with poor swallowing and breathing function, which create ideal conditions for the bacteria to access the lungs.
Oral care techniques for preventing pneumonia
The steps you take every day to battle bad breath can also help fight off pneumonia. Brushing and flossing are essential, and rinsing with alcohol-free mouthwash can wash away bacteria that might lead to illness. You should also see your dentist regularly for cleanings and checkups. If you experience an oral health care issue, such as persistent canker sores or tonsil stones, it's important to see a dental professional and take care of the problem immediately.
Another key is avoiding dry mouth, which causes bacteria to build up in the mouth. Be sure to drink plenty of water to keep the oral cavity moist, and sugar-free gum can be a quick fix when you're mouth is parched. Proper swallowing and breathing are also beneficial, making it less likely for harmful organisms to make their way into the lungs. For that reason, you might try developing good oral care habits by chewing your food completely when eating and practicing breathing exercises to develop good respiration.