Do your gums bleed a lot? This is why it could lead to LUNG DISEASE

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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  • Researchers in China found that gum disease worsened cases of COPD
  • The team said the findings could lead to new treatments for the lung condition 
  • READ MORE: Researchers invent a 10-minute test to spot gum disease

Bleeding gums could lead to lung disease, a study suggests.

Researchers in China found that mice infected with the oral bacteria Porphyromonas gingivalis, which can lead to gum disease. 

This worsened the progression of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in mice who already had the condition.

The findings suggested that gum disease management could act as a potential treatment for COPD, which affects early 16 million US adults and is the sixth-leading cause of death worldwide.

Around 40 percent of American adults over 30 have gum disease – and the problem has been linked to serious, chronic health conditions like lung cancer

Dr Yan Li, co-lead study author and microbiologist at West China Hospital of Stomatology at Sichuan University, said: ‘Our finding could lead to a potential new strategy for treating COPD.’

Periodontitis results from the untreated build-up of plaque, a sticky film made primarily of bacteria.

Over time, the plaque can harden into tartar and cause irritation and inflammation of gum tissue. This produces deep gaps between the teeth and gums where bacteria flourish, resulting in bleeding or swollen gums, bad breath, and tooth loss.

Previous studies have shown that gum disease is a risk factor for numerous diseases, including diabetes, high blood pressure and some cancers.

This is because gum disease increases inflammation, which signals to the body that something is wrong. This sets off an immune response, and when that response is too strong, it can increase the risk of chronic diseases.

Additional studies, including some led by Dr Li and co-lead author Dr Boyu Tang, have established that the bacteria Porphyromonas gingivalis plays an important role in gum disease by destroying tissues that support the teeth.

For the new work, the researchers infected mice with both the bacteria and COPD. The animals were infected with COPD by being exposed to cigarette smoke.

By testing mouse lung tissue, they found that Porphyromonas gingivalis activated the production of immune cells gamma-delta T cells and M2 macrophages.

This created cytokines, which, in excess, can ramp up inflammation in the body, leading to worsening conditions like COPD.

Dr Tang said: ‘By enhancing periodontal therapy and targeting the inhibition of gamma-delta T cells and M2 macrophages we may be able to help control the progression of COPD.’ 

COPD is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow.

According to the Mayo Clinic, this leads to difficulty breathing, as well as wheezing, chest tightness, chronic cough, frequent respiratory infections, lack of energy, unintended weight loss, and swelling in the ankles, feet, or legs.

Smoking is the most significant risk factor for COPD. When it progresses, it can increase the risk of heart issues, high blood pressure, and lung cancer.

According to the World Health Organization, COPD is the sixth-leading cause of death across the world. It affects 16 million Americans. 

Meanwhile, about 40 percent of Americans over 30 have gum disease. 

The researchers intend to carry out further experiments in humans. 

 Dr Li said: ‘If the cigarette smoke exposure could be extended for a longer period of time, these changes might be more pronounced.

‘We’ll further carry out additional studies on human subjects to confirm the mechanism.’

The team plans to recruit patients with both conditions and offer periodontitis treatment, then compare lung function and immune cell counts before and after.

The study was published Friday in the journal mSystems. 

WHAT IS CHRONIC OBSTRUCTIVE PULMONARY DISEASE? 

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) describes a group of lung conditions that cause the airways to narrow and become inflamed.

Examples include bronchitis, which affects the airways, and emphysema, which impacts the air sacs. 

This makes it harder to move air in and out as you breathe.

Around 1.2million people in the UK are diagnosed with COPD, British Lung Foundation statistics show. 

And in the US, 16million people suffer from COPD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

It usually develops due to long-term damage to the lungs from smoking or air pollution.

Jobs where people are exposed to fumes, dust and chemicals also raise the risk. 

COPD also seems to run in families.

And a rare genetic condition called alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency makes people susceptible at a very young age.  

Symptoms include:

  • Breathlessness during day-to-day activities, like walking
  • Persistent cough
  • Wheezing in cold weather
  • Producing excess phlegm

In severe cases, sufferers lose their appetite, have swollen ankles, lose weight and may even cough up blood. 

COPD is incurable and the damage to the lungs cannot be reversed. 

However, treatments can help make breathing easier. 

Patients should also quit smoking and maintain a healthy weight. 

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