Better oral hygiene could lower pneumonia risk

There may be another way to prevent pneumonia this time of year: brush your teeth.

New research from the Yale University School of Medicine discovered changes in mouth bacteria preceded the development of pneumonia in hospital patients. After studying 37 participants over the course of a month, Samit Joshi, M.D., leader of the study, concluded that changes in oral bacteria play some role in a person’s risk for developing pneumonia.

The research team discovered patients on ventilators who contracted pneumonia experienced a significant change in their oral bacteria prior to falling ill. While further research is required to definitively link oral bacteria with pneumonia, other studies have affiliated oral health with respiratory diseases.

“Our findings may improve the way we prevent pneumonia in the future by maintaining the bacteria that live within our mouths,” Dr. Joshi said.

Respiratory illnesses and oral health have been linked for years. Bacterial infections in the chest are believed to be caused by breathing droplets from the mouth and throat into the lungs. Studies have shown a higher pneumonia mortality rate from people who experience an above average amount of gum problems.

“Simply brushing your teeth two minutes twice a day using a fluoride toothpaste, cleaning in between teeth daily with interdental brushes or floss, cutting down on how often you have sugary foods and drinks, and visiting the dentist regularly, as often as recommended, will be a great starting point,” Dr. Joshi said.

Dr. Joshi presented the research at the Infectious Diseases Society of America annual meeting in October 2011.

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