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J Periodontol. 1999 Jul;70(7):793-802.

Role of oral bacteria in respiratory infection.

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  • 1Department of Oral Biology, University at Buffalo, State University of New York, USA.


An association between oral conditions such as periodontal disease and several respiratory conditions has been noted. For example, recent evidence has suggested a central role for the oral cavity in the process of respiratory infection. Oral periodontopathic bacteria can be aspirated into the lung to cause aspiration pneumonia. The teeth may also serve as a reservoir for respiratory pathogen colonization and subsequent nosocomial pneumonia. Typical respiratory pathogens have been shown to colonize the dental plaque of hospitalized intensive care and nursing home patients. Once established in the mouth, these pathogens may be aspirated into the lung to cause infection. Other epidemiologic studies have noted a relationship between poor oral hygiene or periodontal bone loss and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Several mechanisms are proposed to explain the potential role of oral bacteria in the pathogenesis of respiratory infection: 1. aspiration of oral pathogens (such as Porphyromonas gingivalis, Actinobacillus actinomycetemcomitans, etc.) into the lung to cause infection; 2. periodontal disease-associated enzymes in saliva may modify mucosal surfaces to promote adhesion and colonization by respiratory pathogens, which are then aspirated into the lung; 3. periodontal disease-associated enzymes may destroy salivary pellicles on pathogenic bacteria to hinder their clearance from the mucosal surface; and 4. cytokines originating from periodontal tissues may alter respiratory epithelium to promote infection by respiratory pathogens.

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