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Oral Hygiene and Pneumonia

Posted by Taylor Schachter on Jun 24 2020, 09:47 PM

Oral Hygiene and Pneumonia

Caring for the oral health and hygiene of seniors in assisted living often poses a challenge for caregivers. While some patients cooperate, others refuse care, causing their oral health to suffer from cavities, tooth loss, and even gum diseases including gingivitis and periodontitis. That’s why a study by the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network, was created: to help caregivers take care of the teeth of seniors who refuse oral health care.

The study aimed to arm providers with tips for helping to care for the oral health of seniors in assisted living facilities, but in doing so it revealed some interesting data about another ailment that affects seniors in assisted living: pneumonia.

As we have seen with the current COVID-19 pandemic, patients in nursing homes can be especially vulnerable to illness due to weakened immune systems. One condition that is especially prevalent in nursing homes is the respiratory infection pneumonia. Pneumonia can have many causes, including bacteria, viruses or fungal infections. In healthy individuals it usually clears up on its own, but for vulnerable individuals like seniors, it can cause complications including death.

Dr. Martin Abelar of San Diego, California, did not participate in the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research study but says the findings are revealing and dentists and patients alike should take note.

"What the researchers found in this study was that, among the participants in the study, those in assisted living facilities who utilized the oral health care initiatives from the study had a 31 percent lower instance of pneumonia than patients in facilities that did not participate in the oral health care initiatives," he says.

So, what does this mean? According to Abelar, it could mean that maintaining oral health and hygiene could reduce your risk of developing pneumonia, much like the seniors in the study. But how is this possible? Abelar believes it has something to do with the oral bacteria killed by brushing and flossing. With a reduced presence of that bacteria, the rest of the body has been shown to be healthier overall, even lowering the risk of serious conditions like heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer. Another recent study linked good oral health to reduced risk of atrial fibrillation and heart failure.

"We are beginning to see more and more that good oral health is a gateway to good overall health, and poor oral health has dangerous ramifications for the entire body," says Abelar. "Now we know that it helps reduce the instance of pneumonia, too."

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