Your Mouth Bacteria Can Harm Your Lungs

A new study carried out by a team of researchers in Japanese, affiliated with the Kyushu University in Fukuoka, examines the effect of dental hygiene on respiratory health of the elderly people.

Corresponding author of the study, Dr. Yoshihisa Yamashita, from the Division of Oral Health, Growth, and Development in the Faculty of Dental Science at Kyushu, shed light on the importance of the tongue microbiota for our respiratory health.

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According to Dr. Yamashita and his team, the oral microbiota is vital for general health because the bacteria we ingest affect every aspect of our health.

The authors explained that the bacteria in our tongue microbiota reach our guts and seniors are also likely to breathe in some of these microorganisms.

Problems such as difficulty swallowing and cough reflux may cause the elderly to mistakenly inhale bacteria that could lead to pulmonary infections such as pneumonia.

Link between oral health and pneumonia

Dr. Yamashita and his colleagues surveyed the tongue microbiota composition of 506 community-dwelling seniors aged 70–80 years in order to probe the effect of dental hygiene on seniors. The seniors were residents of Hisayama, Japan, and they had received a dental examination in 2016.

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Using an advanced method of genomic sequencing called 16S rRNA genetic sequencing, the researchers determined the composition and density of the seniors’ microbiota. The main bacteria identified were Prevotella histicola, Veillonella atypica, Streptococcus salivarius,and Streptococcus parasanguinis.

These bacteria were found predominantly in seniors with more plaque, more cavities, and fewer teeth. The scientists also found more fungi in these seniors’ microbiotas, and among those who wore dentures.

The authors concluded that elderly adults with poorer oral health swallow a more dysbiotic microbiota made on the tongue.

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Dr. Yamashita said “fewer teeth, poorer dental hygiene, and more dental cavities experience are closely related to dysbiotic shift in the tongue microbiota composition, which might be damaging to the respiratory health of elderly adults with swallowing problems.”

According to Dr. Yamashita, “the study highlights the importance of dental health. Careful attention should be given to the tongue microbiota status in elderly adults with poorer dental conditions.”


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