Dr. Nammy Patel, founder of Green Dentistry in San Francisco, and author of the bestselling book Age With Style— A Guide to a Youthful Smile and Healthy Living, discusses how gum disease and lung health are related.

Gum disease is related to lung health because they share the same airway or the same opening, so your nose and throat are highly connected. They’re a meeting point for our sinuses, which is our airway, also our food which we take through our mouth; and when there is a lot of gum disease around, we can transfer the bacteria from the mouth and in the gum and into the lungs, which can create a lot of different problems because those bacteria in the lungs do not belong there. Our immune system is going to become active and it’s going to start fighting these bugs off, and it’s going to create an immune response, which is sometimes known as bronchitis, or it’s known as an allergic reaction, or trouble breathing, anything of those natures.

And it is also known there is a mechanism where gum disease is linked to lung cancer as well; it’s mainly because some of the bacteria that are in the gum have something called virulence factors, so those factors actually are attracted to cancerous cells and make them grow even faster. Cancer cells are cells that have uncontrolled cell growth, or they keep dividing and we don’t want them to. There are certain bacteria in the gums that can exist, and they will make those uncontrollable cell growth even more, and that poses a huge problem because our bodies can’t fight that off as quickly as it needs to, and so we want to make sure that we’re keeping ourselves healthy. We want to make sure that the gums are cleaned up. We can avoid a lot of other problems, not just lung cancer, but heart disease, diabetes, anything along those lines, so I urge you to come and get your teeth cleaned.