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Poor Oral Hygiene is Linked to the Risk of Pneumonia

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Poor Oral Hygiene is Linked to Pneumonia

Poor Oral Hygiene is Linked to the Risk of Pneumonia

December 07, 2004
By: Michelle Rizzo for Dental1.org

Better oral hygiene, including regular tooth brushing, may reduce the risk of developing pneumonia among elderly nursing home patients, according to results of a recent study. The study found that germs from dental plaque may be inhaled, leading to pneumonia.
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Tips for Helping Nursing Home Patients Maintain Good Oral Health Care
  • Use a soft bristle toothbrush and move in a gentle circular motion
  • Use a tongue scraper to remove bacteria
  • Floss and use an anti-plaque mouthwash daily
  • If a patient wears dentures, they should be cleaned daily. Brush gums and the roof of the mouth to remove plaque before putting dentures in.
  • If patient has trouble brushing his own teeth, he can use an automatic toothbrush or have a health care provider assist with brushing.


  • The risk of pneumonia is especially high among critically ill elderly people who are often frail and have weakened immune systems. Poor dental hygiene has long been suspected of increasing the risk of the disease in this population.

    “[The patients] tend to have no oral hygiene at all so there’s a lot of bacteria growing in the front part of the respiratory tract, the mouth,” said Dr. Jack Caton, past president of the American Academy of Peridontology in an interview. “So it’s not surprising that these bacteria can then be somehow inhaled and establish in the lungs and produce pneumonia.”

    The recent study, published in the journal Chest, followed 49 elderly nursing home residents who were admitted to the intensive care unit of a Buffalo hospital. The patients’ plaque was tested upon their admission to the hospital and the patients were monitored for signs of pneumonia.

    During their hospital stay, fourteen of the patients (29%) developed pneumonia. Of these, ten had started out with respiratory disease-causing germs in their teeth. Genetic testing showed that the bacteria found in the lung fluid matched the bacteria found in the dental plaque in eight of the patients. The study was funded by a grant from the American Lung Association.

    The University of Buffalo’s Dr. Ali El-Solh, lead author of the study, said that nursing homes need to help patients keep their teeth and dentures clean. A combination of brushing, flossing, and regular dental check-ups would help maintain clean teeth. Dr. El-Solh also noted that additional research is needed to determine whether regular brushing or rinsing teeth or dentures is enough to destroy the germs and prevent pneumonia. However, he explained that the recent study makes a strong case for better dental care and maintenance of oral hygiene in nursing homes.

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