Several studies have found a link between poor oral health and pneumonia. The elderly, children, and people with weakened immune systems are at greatest risk.
A study by researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine found that changes in bacteria in the mouth occurred before patients developed pneumonia. They concluded that those changes contributed to development of the disease. Other studies have found a relationship between cavities, gum disease, and pneumonia. Researchers in one study found a link between oral health and pneumonia even when they controlled for the number of medications, smoking, and other medical conditions.
Scientists believe that pneumonia and other respiratory infections can develop when fine droplets from the mouth and throat that contain bacteria make their way into the lungs. These droplets can cause abscesses, inflammation, and infection. They can also worsen existing medical conditions. Even patients without teeth are at risk because dentures can harbor bacteria. Some studies have noted that patients with gum problems who develop pneumonia are at greater risk of dying from the disease than those do not also have gum disease.
Dentists say it is especially important to practice good oral care during the winter, when the cold temperatures can weaken people’s immune systems and make them more susceptible to viruses and bacterial infections. Dentists recommend brushing the teeth for two minutes twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, flossing once a day, and reducing consumption of sugary foods and beverages. Rinsing with an antibacterial rinse can also remove food and bacteria. Elderly patients who wear dentures should clean them with products specifically designed to remove food and bacteria from dentures, not with regular toothpaste.
People should also visit the dentist at least twice a year, and more often if they have any specific concerns. People who take medications regularly should be aware that many drugs can affect oral health. Patients should tell their dentist about any medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, that they take.