Can gum disease make COPD worse?

MONDAY, Jan. 15, 2024 (HealthDay News) — A new study in mice points to a surprising link: Gum disease may worsen chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Because gum disease (periodontitis) is a chronic inflammatory infection, it has long been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Now Chinese researchers believe it may also be linked to the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, COPD.

“We will conduct more studies in humans to confirm this mechanism,” said study co-author Yang Li of West China Dental Hospital of Sichuan University.

“Our discovery could lead to a potential new treatment strategy for COPD,” Lee said in a press release from the American Society of Microbiology.

COPD is a progressive inflammatory disease of the lungs that is often (but not always) associated with smoking. There is no cure for this disease, which makes it difficult to breathe over time.

In a previous study, Li and co-senior author Boyu Tang (also of Sichuan University) helped confirm that the bacterium Porphyromonas gingivalis, commonly found in the mouth, is the main culprit of gum disease.

Because gum disease and COPD are inflammatory diseases, Chinese researchers investigated possible links using a mouse model.

In a series of experiments, they found that mice infected with gum disease and COPD progressed more rapidly to COPD than if they had COPD alone.

In another experiment, the team tracked the spread of P. gingivalis through the bodies of rodents. They found that the bacteria moved from the mouth into COPD-affected lung tissue, where they disrupted the lungs’ natural microbial colonies.

Gum disease also promotes the proliferation of certain immune cells in the lung tissue of mice and activates these immune cells, exacerbating processes associated with COPD.

By treating gum disease and thereby reducing its impact on immune cells in the lungs, doctors “could help control the progression of COPD,” Tan suggested.

Of course, results from animal studies often don’t work in humans, so Li and Tan are planning human studies to confirm these results.

They will recruit patients who are struggling with gum disease and COPD, offer them treatments to ease the severity of their gum disease, and then see if the patients’ lung function improves.

The results were published in the January 12 issue of the journal mSystems.

More information

Learn more about gum disease at the Cleveland Clinic.

SOURCE: American Society for Microbiology, press release, January 12, 2024.

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