Dental Cleanings & Pneumonia

Those twice yearly dental cleanings are doing more than just giving you a beautiful smile – it may also be protecting you from pneumonia by reducing harmful bacteria in the mouth.

A new study presented at IDWeek 2016, an annual conference for infectious disease specialists, revealed findings based on health records of more than 26,000 people nationwide.  The research found that people who never got dental checkups of cleanings had an 86 percent greater risk of pneumonia than those who visit the dentist twice a year.  This study has not yet been published or peer-reviewed. 

Each year almost one million Americans contract pneumonia, an infection that inflames air sacs in one or both lungs that may fill with fluid.  Symptoms can vary from mild to severe depending on the type of pneumonia, your age and overall health. Anyone can get pneumonia but it is more common among the elderly or those with AIDS or lung disease. The annual death rate from pneumonia is around 50,000 individuals.

It has been well-documented the connection between oral health and pneumonia over the years.   A critical component of maintaining good oral health are twice yearly visits to a dentist for regular cleanings and inspection of the teeth and gums.

Our mouth is a harbor of both good and bad bacteria.  In a healthy mouth, there is a balance between beneficial and harmful bacteria.  Problems arise when harmful bacteria grow out of control threatening risk to our teeth, gums, and the underlying oral structure of the mouth.  The average healthy mouth contains up to 650 species of bacteria. When there is an overgrowth of harmful bacteria tipping the balance of power by outnumbering the good bacteria and then combine this with infrequent or no regular dental visits for teeth and gum cleanings, this can spell disaster for your mouth.    

Poor oral health resulting from this overgrowth in bacteria can lead to tooth decay, inflamed, bleeding and tender gums, and periodontal disease. These same conditions also put a person at a greater risk of developing a lung infection such as pneumonia since oral bacteria can travel from the mouth to the lungs.

Gum disease and advanced periodontal disease can break down oral tissue allowing oral bacteria to leak into the bloodstream where it can gain access to the lungs.  Normally these bacteria can be kept in check when the gums and teeth are regularly cleaned and inspected, preventing them from traveling throughout the body.  These same bacteria can cause inflammation in other area of the body leading to other health problems. 

The best way to prevent excessive harmful bacteria in the mouth that could lead to the development of pneumonia is to practice good oral hygiene.  Each day brush teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and floss at least once a day.  Use of a mouthwash controlling oral germs is also recommended to help keep the mouth in a state where only the good germs survive. 

In addition to practicing good oral hygiene, it is imperative to visit your dentist twice a year for dental cleanings and a thorough inspection of your teeth and gums.  A type of bacteria that forms on our teeth is plaque.  Plaque is a film of bacteria made up of food particles and saliva that collect on our teeth every day that can lead to cavities, periodontal disease and gingivitis and will harden into tartar if it is not removed.  Even though regular brushing and flossing of our teeth can remove some plaque, it takes a more thorough, deep professional cleaning by a dental hygienist to extensively remove the plaque and tartar that we cannot. 

Dental visits and procedures are expensive and not all insurance plans cover dental work.  If you are unable to have regular dental checkups due to financial concerns, this link can help you find ways to get free or low cost dental work.