Chronic obstructive pulmonary (COPD) disease is the third leading cause of death in America. Over 11 million adults have a COPD diagnosis, and millions more may have un-diagnosed COPD. You probably know that stopping smoking helps reduce complications of COPD. But did you know that good oral hygiene also may reduce the disease’s toll on your health? Clean Teeth and COPD Brushing twice a day and flossing regularly may not feel like much, but doing so rids your mouth of harmful bacteria and helps protect your overall health. Without regular brushing, excess bacteria build up along your gums, teeth, and tongue. Bacteria that linger too long can cause infection along your teeth and gums and increase inflammation in your mouth. Poor oral health and inadequate dental care may actually worsen COPD symptoms. For example, bacteria from your mouth have been linked to respiratory infections in your airways. It’s not completely clear how poor oral hygiene is connected to COPD flare-ups, but researchers suspect that oral health may indicate your overall health status. Tips for Daily Dental Care Follow these tips for clean teeth—and better overall health: Always use a toothbrush with a soft bristle. These brushes are labeled “soft” on the packaging. Using brushes labeled “medium,” for example, may irritate your gum line. This can be a sensitive area if you have COPD. Replace your toothbrush every three to four months. Worn toothbrushes don’t do a good job of getting rid of bacteria and food particles. Hold your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to your gums when brushing. Make short, tooth-wide, back-and-forth strokes. Don’t forget to brush your tongue. Bacteria live there, too. Use toothpaste containing fluoride. Fluoride matters because it strengthens tooth enamel. This is the outer coating of your tooth. Fluoride helps protects against tooth decay and gum disease by removing plaque. Floss. Toothpaste and brushing don’t catch everything. Floss at least once a day between each tooth. Floss grabs bacteria and food particles between your teeth before they can irritate gums and form plaque. The Tobacco Connection Tobacco use also increases your risk for oral cancer, leads to tooth decay, and causes bad breath. Kicking the habit is key to improving both your overall well-being and your oral health. Get to Know Your Dentist Don’t be shy about seeing your dentist. Visit him or her every six months. Your dentist will scrape off any tartar, identify possible cavities, and make sure your teeth and gums are healthy and free of decay and infection. Research shows that people with COPD who brush often and have a regular dental visit experience fewer COPD exacerbations, or flare-ups, than COPD patients who don’t see their dentist or practice good oral hygiene. The bottom line: Taking care of your teeth may decrease your risk for COPD-related complications. Key Takeaways Without regular brushing, bacteria build up along your gums, teeth, and tongue. This can cause infection along your teeth and gums and increase inflammation in your mouth. Poor oral health and inadequate dental care may worsen COPD symptoms. For example, bacteria from your mouth have been linked to respiratory infections in your airways. Research shows that people with COPD who brush often and have a regular dental visit experience fewer COPD flare-ups. For good dental health, use a soft-bristled toothbrush, floss every day, and visit your dentist every six months.