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New Research Suggests Periodontitis Worsens COPD


A Colgate-Palmolive senior executive shares thoughts on the study from Sichuan University, in China, as well as the need to understand the broader impacts of poor oral health on overall health and well-being.

New Research Suggests Periodontitis Worsens COPD | Image Credit: © RFBSIP - stock.adobe.com.

New Research Suggests Periodontitis Worsens COPD | Image Credit: © RFBSIP - stock.adobe.com.

A new study published earlier this year adds to the overwhelming evidence showing the correlation between oral health—specifically, periodontal disease—and overall health, this time focusing on the ties between chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and periodontitis.

Researchers from Sichuan University, in China, report that bacteria associated with gum disease promote COPD progression through the activation of 2 types of cells that are important to the immune system. These findings suggest that periodontitis worsens COPD, and point to the criticalness of gum disease management.

The study was published in mSystems, a journal from the American Society of Microbiology, and focuses on the relationship between periodontitis and COPD, which according to the World Health Organization, is the third-leading cause of death worldwide.1

Gillian Barclay, senior vice president, global public health and scientific affairs at Colgate-Palmolive.

Gillian Barclay, senior vice president, global public health and scientific affairs at Colgate-Palmolive.

Gillian Barclay, senior vice president, global public health and scientific affairs at Colgate-Palmolive, spoke with Dental Products Report (DPR) about the importance of the study, what companies like Colgate-Palmolive are doing to educate people on the need for good oral health, and why it is essential that the dental industry fosters good oral health habits in children.

DPR: There has been plenty of research in recent years about the oral systemic link and associations that have been established between oral health and cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer disease, diabetes, and several other diseases. Why is this study focused on the relationship between periodontitis and COPD so significant?

Gillian Barclay: Periodontitis is the world’s most common chronic oral inflammatory disease, and COPD is a chronic systemic inflammatory disease with a mortality rate of 4.1 million global deaths per year. There is overwhelming evidence showing a correlation between periodontal disease and overall health, particularly showing periodontitis as a leading risk factor for noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and serious respiratory infections, and impacting mental health.

These findings are significant as they help us better understand, for the first time, how periodontitis affects COPD progression so we can identify preventable solutions within oral care.

DPR: How does having this type of research help the dental industry and companies like Colgate-Palmolive stress the importance of good oral health to the general public?

GB: Colgate-Palmolive is a caring, innovative growth company that is reimagining a healthier future for all. As we work to fulfill our purpose, improving people’s oral health literacy around the world is crucial. We aim to help people understand the broader impacts of poor oral health on their overall health and well-being and the value of preventative approaches. As demonstrated, the scope can go beyond oral conditions ([such as] cavities, gingivitis, and periodontal diseases) to respiratory conditions like COPD.

Consider, also, the economic impacts. Globally in 2015 alone, oral diseases accounted for an estimated $357 billion in direct costs, [eg, treatment], and $188 billion in in-direct costs, [eg, loss of productivity]. At Colgate-Palmolive, we are committed to a whole-body health approach—breaking down silos to integrate oral health [care] into public health systems, including via primary health care. It is our hope that as we build on our commitment and work together with partners and health professionals, we can address the need for comprehensive, systemic public health action, closing the oral health gap around the link between oral and overall health.

DPR: What is Colgate-Palmolive doingand what are its plansto carry this momentum for this topic and to advance the global oral-systemic health agenda?

GB: As the worldwide leader in oral care, and with the Colgate brand in more homes than any other [brand], Colgate-Palmolive is contributing to and deepening its support to address the global health crisis that has far-reaching and significant impacts. Specifically, we aim to blend our expertise, innovative products, and passion to reimagine a healthier future for all. A few initiatives that speak to this include:

  • The Colgate Bright Smiles, Bright Futures® (BSBF) oral health education program, a more than 30-year program centered on improving the oral health and well-being of children and families that are vulnerable. To date the program has reached 1.7 billion children—and counting.
  • The Colgate Oral Care Center, which offers a range of important information on different oral health topics, from cavities and dental sealants to gum disease and pregnancy oral care.
  • Know Your OQ, a free interactive assessment that teaches people about their oral health quotient and provides resources so people can improve their understanding of how oral health is linked to physical health and mental well-being, as well as [learn how positive] daily habits can be incorporated into any oral health routine. We know through our research that when people take the assessment and read the content, their oral health literacy improves.

DPR: Please elaborate on Colgate-Palmolive’s partnership with Verily to conduct an innovative oral health study. What are the goals for this study, and why is this important?

GB: In August 2021, Colgate-Palmolive announced a strategic collaboration with Verily, an Alphabet precision health company, to research oral health through its [Project] Baseline Health Study. The study (NCT04954313) aims to see how oral health practices, including intensive nonsurgical periodontal therapy, coupled with a robust Colgate-Palmolive home oral hygiene regimen, monitored through its hum smart–toothbrush—connected technologies, affect health more broadly.

Image Credit: © Colgate-Palmolive

Image Credit: © Colgate-Palmolive

The study has enrolled adult participants with periodontal disease and diabetes and/or cardiovascular disease…aged 18 years and older, with prediabetes, type 2 diabetes and/or cardiovascular disease for up to 18 months, to expand the understanding of the interrelationship between oral health, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. As this is an ongoing clinical trial, we cannot speculate on any findings at this time. We look forward to comprehensively assessing the data and sharing additional information closer to the completion date in February 2025.

DPR: As we continue to learn about all these oral system links, can we expect to see a closer relationship and/or better communication between dentists and physicians? What can Colgate do to help?

GB: For oral health to be seen as a critical element to overall health and well-being, stronger communication is needed from a peer-to-peer health care provider perspective. Colgate-Palmolive is working with health care professionals—particularly nurses—to expand training on the importance of whole-body care and initiate global and local partnerships to improve diversity in the health care workforce, inform health policy guidelines, and address the socio-economic impacts of poor oral health. We are also leveraging next-generation technology and research to address the significant impacts of poor oral health on [certain] communities, such as people with disabilities, to ensure a healthier future for all.

DPR: Explain why Colgate is so invested in educating families about the importance of good oral health habits at an early age. What are some of the success stories behind the company’s Bright Smiles, Bright Futures program?

GB: Like [with] most healthy habits, it’s important for children to develop a good oral health routine early on because research shows that nearly 50% of the world’s population suffers from oral diseases, including cavities, gingivitis, and periodontal diseases—with cavities being the No. 1 chronic disease among children.1 Without proper preventive oral care, cavities in children can develop and, left untreated, cause pain and infections that may lead to problems with eating, speaking, playing, and learning.1 And cavities and oral pain can negatively impact mental well-being, leading to significant physical, emotional, social and even economic distress.2 We take proactive measures to address other health conditions, and ensuring good oral health shouldn’t be any different. It’s all about taking a comprehensive preventative approach to maintaining good oral care from an early age—so we can support healthier, brighter futures [for our children].

The BSBF oral health education program was established in 1991 to improve the health, education, and well-being of children and their families around the world. To date, we are proud that this programming has reached more than 1.7 billion children and continues to educate about oral health habits, like brushing twice a day, and sharing informative resources for establishing a strong oral health routine. 

Our goals continue to expand for this program as we see the benefits it has on overall health outcomes.3 We aim to continue to promote lifelong learning opportunities and create a world of bright smiles and even brighter futures. You can discover stories of our global impact here.

  1. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). World Health Organization. March 16, 2023. Accessed February 27, 2024. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease-(copd)
  2. Children’s oral health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. April 6, 2022. Accessed February 27, 2024. https://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/basics/childrens-oral-health/index.html
  3. Childhood cavities, the most common disease among children, lead to significant physical, emotional, social and economic distress. News release. Colgate-Palmolive. October 26, 2021. Accessed February 27, 2024. https://investor.colgatepalmolive.com/news-releases/news-release-details/childhood-cavities-most-common-disease-among-children-lead

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