Oral bacteria linked to risk of pneumonia

Dec. 28, 2011
A recent study found changes in bacteria in the mouth preceded the development of pneumonia, suggesting that changes in oral bacteria play a role in the risk for developing pneumonia.

Thousands of vulnerable people are being reminded they should look after their oral health this winter after scientists further linked oral bacteria to an increased risk of pneumonia.

The study found changes in bacteria in the mouth preceded the development of pneumonia, and lead author Dr. Samit Joshi of Yale University School of Medicine concluded this process "suggests that changes in oral bacteria play a role in the risk for developing pneumonia."

It is thought pneumonia affects more than 620,000 people in the UK and claims the lives of around 5% of those who contract the disease.2

Although further research is required to determine the exact relationship between oral health and pneumonia, it is not the first time the two diseases have been linked.

Poor oral health has been associated with respiratory diseases for a number of years, as bacterial chest infections are thought to be caused by breathing in fine droplets from the throat and mouth into the lungs. This can cause infections, such as pneumonia, or could worsen an existing condition. Studies have even suggested a higher mortality rate from pneumonia in people with higher numbers of deep gum pockets.3

The findings of the study present further evidence that there’s a significant health risk to the elderly and the young, according to chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr. Nigel Carter.

Dr. Carter said: "During the winter months we’re all susceptible to colds, coughs, and chesty viruses due to the drop in temperature. What people must remember, particularly those highlighted as vulnerable, is that prevention can be very basic.

"Systemic links between gum disease and overall health have been well documented, and at this time of year keeping up good oral health can really help stave off illness.

"Simply brushing your teeth for 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 they recommend, will be a great starting point. If you have swollen gums that bleed regularly when brushing, bad breath, loose teeth, or regular mouth infections appear, it is likely you have gum disease.

"If any of these symptoms persist, or signs of pneumonia develop, visit your dentist and GP immediately."

The research, presented on October 22 at the Infectious Diseases Society of America annual meeting in Boston, looked at 37 subjects who were followed for a one-month period. The subjects included 19 healthy adults with an average age of 60; and those at risk for health-care-associated pneumonia including 10 nursing home residents (average age 86) and eight mechanically ventilated ICU patients (average age 51).

Editor's Notes...

1. The British Dental Health Foundation is an independent charity that along with its global arm, the International Dental Health Foundation, is dedicated to improving the oral health of the public by providing free and impartial dental advice, by running educational campaigns such as National Smile Month, and by informing and influencing the public, profession, and government on issues such as mouth cancer awareness and water fluoridation.

Please visit the Foundation’s Twitter accounts: smilemonth, dentalhealthorg, mouthcancerorg and add our Facebook fan page: British Dental Health Foundation. For information and free expert advice on oral health issues, call the National Dental Helpline on 0845 063 1188, or click here for more information on systemic links and oral health.

2. http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/diseases/facts/pneumonia.htm

S. Awano, T. Ansai, Y. Takata, I. Soh, S. Akifusa, T. Hamasaki, A. Yoshida, K. Sonoki, K. Fujisawa, and T. Takehara. Oral Health and Mortality Risk from Pneumonia in the Elderly. J DENT RES, April 2008; 87:334-339, doi:10.1177/154405910808700418.