As many as 5 to 10 million Americans contract pneumonia every year, with more than a million of them requiring hospitalization. This startling statistic makes pneumonia the third greatest cause of hospitalization, after births and heart disease. Even though pneumonia can be effectively treated, this infection still causes 40,000 to 70,000 deaths annually. The elderly are particularly at risk, and the survival rate is lower within this group.
In a 2011 study, Dr. Samit Yoshi, postdoctoral fellow in infectious diseases at Yale University School of Medicine, discovered that changes in a person’s oral bacteria may significantly affect their risk of contracting pneumonia. He found that poor oral hygiene is one of the greatest risk factors for this illness, and the risk doubles if that person has especially severe gum disease.
Details of the Study
A total of 37 patients were followed for a month, and the researchers found that people on ventilators who came down with pneumonia had a notable shift in their mouths’ bacterial composition. The patients ranged in age and health histories. Although the research didn’t demonstrate a direct relationship, this link between mouth bacteria and respiratory infection is a significant finding. This information should be taken seriously by everyone, especially during colder months when there’s a greater tendency for people to develop chest colds and viruses.
An Earlier Study, Same Results
In 2006, another study was conducted by the Department of Oral Biology at the School of Dental Medicine at the State University of New York in Buffalo. These researchers also studied the relationship between poor oral health, oral bacteria (microflora) and bacterial pneumonia. This study focused on institutionalized patients that suffered from ventilator-associated pneumonia. Dental plaque can form on natural teeth or on dentures, which then become susceptible to respiratory pathogens that colonize on these surfaces. The act of breathing these pathogens transfers the plaque (oral biofilms) into the person’s lower airway. This puts them at greater risk of developing a lung infection.
These patients might also breathe in materials from inflamed periodontal tissues, which can further cause lung irritation. Lab studies, clinical trials and articles were reviewed to arrive at these findings. It was concluded that “oral interventions” (healthy dental hygiene), especially for groups at high risk, such as hospitalized patients, could reduce the risk of developing pneumonia.
The Importance of Good Dental Hygiene
There have been various studies looking at the link between poor dental health and serious illness, yet they lead to the same conclusion: take good care of your mouth! There are many reasons to regularly brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, use dental floss and rinse with an antiseptic mouthwash. Proper dental care keeps teeth and gums healthy and strong, greatly minimizing tooth decay and gum disease. There have been many findings that gum disease can lead to other health issues, so consider pneumonia just one more health concern that has been added to the long list.
A healthy diet with less sugar, conscientious dental care and regular visits to your dentist is the best recipe for prevention of all sorts of health issues down the road.