The simple act of brushing and flossing can do wonders for the lungs. It decreases the chances of pneumonia and respiratory infections, and literally saves lives from pneumonia-related deaths. It protects patients on ventilators from getting lung infections in the hospital. The reason for this strange relationship between oral health and lung health? The mouth microbiome is a pivotal contributor to the microbiome of the lungs and to your whole-body inflammation. In this blog you will learn how lung health depends on oral health and how you can combat lung infections by building a strong oral microbiome.

Thank you to our sponsor, SUPER TEETH Dental Probiotics, for making this blog possible!

A dental probiotic like this one from SUPER TEETH can introduce beneficial bacteria to the mouth. It contains Streptococcus salivarious BLIS M18, an oral bacteria known to live in the healthy mouth. It also contains prebiotics xylitol and inulin to feed oral microbiota.

 

 

Is Your Oral Microbiome Healthy?mouth Picture

The simple answer to this is how your mouth checks out when you go to the dentist. If you have mouth problems, chances are you have an imbalance, or dysbiosis, of your oral microbiota. The oral microbiota is the collection of good and bad microorganisms that live in your mouth. The large majority of these organisms are harmless or even beneficial to your health. Friendly mouth bacteria protect you from oral infections and tooth infections. Bad bacteria in the mouth, when they are able to take over, can cause cavities, gum disease, root canal infections, and more. The goal is to have a healthy, balanced oral microbiome and a happy, healthy, mouth.

 

Signs of an Unhealthy Mouth Microbiome:

  • Bad breath
  • Bleeding, puffy gums
  • Cavities
  • Root canal infections
  • Gingivitis
  • Oral infections
  • Periodontitis (gum disease)
  • Tooth loss

The Oral-Lung Axis

It’s easy to think of our bodies as machines with separate parts that function in isolation. Alas, it isn’t that way at all. Every single part of our bodies is connected to all of the other parts and they must work in harmony. That doesn’t just go for our human cells, it goes for the microbes that colonize us as well! The bacteria that colonize the mouth, known as the oral microbiome or the oral microbiota, can show up in many other parts of the body. Mouth bacteria have been found in arthritic joints, plaque buildup in arteries, and in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. The undeniable link between oral health and the rest of the body is called the oral-systemic connection.

The mouth microbiome also plays a major role in gut health. The gut microbiome and oral microbiome have a lot of similarities, probably because you are swallowing 140 billion bacteria each day into your intestines. I call these two organs “kissing cousins” in my book, Heal Your Oral Microbiome. So, what’s happening in your mouth microbiome literally impacts your ENTIRE body.

Available on Amazon or a signed copy can be purchased on this site.

But today, let’s focus on the connection between the mouth and the lungs, known as the Oral-Lung Axis. Bacteria from the mouth can impact the lung microbiome and pave the way for either lung infection or lung health.

It’s truly fascinating!

Only in the last 20 years have scientists and doctors realized that the lung microbiome exists. For hundreds of years, it was believed that the lungs were sterile- that they had no microorganisms. The lung microbiota gets established in the lungs by (1) breathing bacteria in or with (2) subclinical micro aspiration, which is when small particles accidentally “go down the wrong way” and enter the lungs during birth or in other situations.

Your oral microbiome and lung microbiomes are intimately interconnected. The bacteria, fungi, and viruses that live in your mouth can either prevent disease or promote it. If you have good oral health and friendly mouth bacteria, it helps resist lung infection. If you have dental health problems such as tooth infections, bleeding gums, loose teeth, or bad breath, it means you have bad bacteria in your mouth and you will be more prone to lung infections. There are a few good reasons for this. Keep reading to learn what you can do to prevent lung infection by building a strong oral microbiome.

 

What is a lung infection?

Since 2020, we have been on guard about lung health. COVID-19 can turn into a nasty pneumonia, or lung infection, that is deadly. As a result, none of us want to cough in public lest we get the evil eye and send people scurrying far away from us!

Coughing, rattling chest, or difficulty breathing are telltale signs of a lung infection. It means that a virus, bacteria, or fungus has infected the lungs and is causing inflammation and damage. It can even be a mix of virus, bacteria, and/or fungi, known as a coinfection, which we’ll discuss later.

Mucus in the lining of our lungs is a wonderful thing. It is part of our immune defense. It protects our lungs from irritants and bad bacteria, viruses, and fungi, so we can cough them up and get them out. But if you’re making a lot of extra mucus, it can be a sign of a lung infection. Normally lung infections are treatable, but they can be very dangerous, especially in babies, children, elderly, and the immune-compromised.

What are lung infection signs and symptoms?

  • A cough that lasts longer than 3 weeks, or several weeks after a cold is over
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Gasping for air
  • Long coughing fits
  • Low blood oxygen levels
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing

 

The most common lung infection is pneumonia. It can be caused by a virus, bacteria, or fungus. The bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae can cause bacterial pneumonia. Other lung infections can be caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, the tuberculosis-causing bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis, or the whooping cough bacterium Bordetella pertussis. Influenza, or the flu, is a viral cause of pneumonia.

In a lung infection, the bronchial tubes may get infected, making it hard for them to take in oxygen. Infection may damage and inflame the air sacs of the lungs, making it hard to breathe. In pneumonia, the air sacs (alveoli) swell and can’t function. Severe cases of influenza, or the flu, can cause damage and inflammation to the lungs and make it difficult to breathe.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

 

Conventional medical treatments for serious lung infections and pneumonia depend on the cause. If the infection is bacterial or fungal, antibiotics or antifungal agents may be used. If the infection is viral, there isn’t much to do except support the body while the immune system chases out the virus. Vaccines are available against some of these infections. Integrative and functional medicine treatments for lung health include diet, lifestyle, nutrition and supplements, mind-body techniques, boosting immunity, decreasing inflammation, and addressing microbial imbalances and infections.

Pneumonia, Lung Infections, and Death Due to Coinfections

One thing that gets overlooked a lot with lung infections is something called coinfection. That’s when there is a lung infection with more than one bacteria, fungi, or virus. Microbes throw a party when you’re sick. They all want in on the fun. Usually, a viral lung infection sets the stage for a bacterial lung infection (or coinfection) to move in and cause even more trouble. This was the case in some of the worst pandemics we have seen. The cause of death during the 1918 Spanish flu was not the virus itself, but bacterial infections. The 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic was the same- bacterial superinfections were the cause of death, not the flu virus.

It’s also an issue in COVID-19. Yes, a virus starts all the trouble but bacteria can get in there and cause lung infection and even ultimately be responsible for serious illness and death. In one study, 50% of people who died from COVID-19 had a secondary bacterial lung infection.

How Your Mouth Microbiome Can Help or Hurt Lung Infection

Your oral microbiome and lung microbiome are very similar. The microbes living in your mouth are more similar to the ones living in your lungs than to your nose microbes!

In other words:

Oral Microbiome = Lung Microbiome

If you have oral infections or tooth infections, that means you have dysbiosis of your oral microbiome- or imbalanced bacteria in your mouth. The infections in your mouth can spread to your lungs. On the flip side, if you have good bacteria in your mouth, those same microbes will benefit your lungs. A healthy lung microbiome can ward off infection, promote a healthy immune response, and calm down inflammation.

What might explain this uncanny similarity is a common, every-moment phenomenon we all know too well- breathing. Every time you breathe, the microbes from your mouth can be inhaled into your lungs. How you breathe affects your mouth microbiome, and nasal breathing is best for your mouth and your lungs too.

“You can breathe disease-causing bacteria from your mouth into your lungs.”

 

Your Oral Microbiota Sets the Stage for Inflammation in Your Body

That’s not the only way the oral microbiome can affect your lung microbiome. If you have an infection in your mouth, then you also have inflammatory chemicals in your mouth. These can be very damaging and toxic. Not only can you breathe microbes from your mouth into your lungs, but you can also breathe inflammatory chemicals into your lungs. It’s like having a burning fire in your mouth, which can spread to your lungs.

It doesn’t stop there. If you have dysbiosis in your mouth (a.k.a. bleeding gums, cavities, root canal infections, gum disease), then the inflammatory chemicals can seep into your bloodstream. The burning fire of inflammation can leak into your blood, carrying harmful inflammatory chemicals throughout your body. That systemic inflammation will surround and flood your lungs. If your lungs are inflamed, they cannot ward off disease. Inflamed lungs can’t support a healthy microbiome and are more vulnerable to disease. Without good bacteria to protect you, bad bacteria can promote lung infections.

 

Prevent Lung Infection by Optimizing Your Oral Microbiota

Building a healthy mouth and oral microbiome can ward off lung infection and inflammation. It grows healthier bacteria in the mouth and- since the mouth and lungs share many bacteria- it helps create a healthier lung microbiome. A healthy lung microbiome has a strong immune response, low inflammation, and plenty of friendly bacteria to help fight off infections successfully.

Many articles have covered the amazing benefits dental health has for lung health. It’s pretty incredible that brushing and flossing could stop pneumonia in its tracks or save lives from lung infections. When hospitals help their patients stay on top of dental hygiene, the patients don’t get as many lung infections, even when they are on ventilators.

Dental hygiene:

  • Decreases pneumonia
  • Decreases respiratory infections
  • Decreases infections for patients on ventilators in the ICU
  • Prevents deaths from pneumonia in the elderly

Just improving the balance of your oral microbiome dramatically improves the health of your lung microbiome. It reduces lung infections and prevents deaths. This is a BIG deal!

A Healthy Oral Microbiome Combats COVID Hospitalizations and Deaths

 

The evidence is stacking up for a role of the mouth in our least favorite virus these days, SARS-CoV-2. Mouth bacteria are associated with severe COVID-19 and people with gum disease are more likely to die from COVID-19. To fight back, scientists recommend treating gum disease, brushing, and flossing to reduce the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infections.

Antimicrobial mouthwashes have been recommended to reduce the spread of the virus in patients who have a positive test. In a recent study in India, a 1% solution of povidone iodine as an antiseptic mouthwash/gargle, nasal drop, and eye drop reduced hospitalizations by 84%, deaths by 88%, and viral clearance by 26-fold.  Other experts have recommended gargling with a 1% hydrogen peroxide solution.

[Note: We aren’t usually big fans of antimicrobial mouthwash since it can kill good mouth bacteria, but for confirmed COVID-19 in high-risk situations, it is worth considering. It can reduce your viral load and reduce transmission to your loved ones.]

 

Treatments to Prevent Lung Infection and Build a Healthy Oral Microbiome

When trying to grow a healthy oral microbiome, you want to focus on (1) feeding the good bacteria and (2) removing the bad bacteria. When you floss, brush, get your dental cleanings, eat a low-sugar diet, and breathe through your nose, you are starving out the bad bacteria or simply removing them. When you eat fiber and colorful whole foods, chewable probiotics, prebiotics, and choose non-toxic dental products, you are feeding and building up your good bacteria.

Building a healthy oral microbiome doesn’t happen overnight. With these tips, it should start to get better within three months. Following these suggestions will improve total-body health, too. Improve the balance of bacteria in your mouth and you will be improving the bacteria in your lungs, calming down inflammation, and helping to ward off lung infections.

  • Feed your good bacteria by eating whole foods, especially colorful veggies and fiber.
  • Take chewable probiotics, such as SUPER TEETH Dental Probiotic, containing Streptococcus salivarius.
  • Take chewable prebiotics to boost friendly bacteria.
  • Brush twice a day.
  • Floss every day.
  • Stay on top of your dental health visits or periodontist appointments.
  • Balance your blood sugar and starve out bad bacteria by saying no to sugar and refined carbohydrates.
  • Breathe through your nose, not your mouth.
  • Test your oral microbiome to look for dysbiosis.
  • If you have a confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection, talk with your functional medicine provider about gargling with a 1% hydrogen peroxide or 1% povidone iodine solution. Use caution. Antiseptic agents can kill good mouth bacteria, too.
  • Choose organic foods and non-toxic dental products to improve the health of your mouth lining.
  • Support the general immune system with immune boosters.
  • Get more information on how to treat oral dysbiosis in my book, Heal Your Oral Microbiome.

 

About SUPER TEETH

At SUPER TEETH we strive to create natural and effective oral health products for customers who value a holistic lifestyle and want to maintain good oral health. We believe that education is the key to oral disease prevention and overall wellness, and we want to share our knowledge with others. SUPER TEETH Dental Probiotic contains three powerful bacteria strains that have been clinically studied to control the growth of oral microorganisms that are responsible for causing cavities, gum disease (gingivitis and periodontal disease) and bad breath (halitosis).

Cass Nelson-Dooley, M.S.
Cass Nelson-Dooley, M.S.

Cass Nelson-Dooley, MS, is a researcher, author, educator, and laboratory consultant. She studied medicinal plants in the rain forests of Panama as a Fulbright Scholar and then launched a career in science and natural medicine. Early on, she studied ethnobotany, ethnopharmacology, and drug discovery at the University of Georgia and AptoTec, Inc. She joined innovators at Metametrix Clinical Laboratory as a medical education consultant helping clinicians use integrative and functional laboratory results in clinical practice. She owns Health First Consulting, LLC, a medical communications company with the mission to improve human health using the written word. Ms. Nelson-Dooley is an oral microbiome expert and author of Heal Your Oral Microbiome. She was a contributing author in Laboratory Evaluations for Integrative and Functional Medicine and Case Studies in Integrative and Functional Medicine. She has published case studies, book chapters, and journal articles about the oral microbiome, natural medicine, nutrition, laboratory testing, obesity, and osteoporosis.