The fall and winter months are peak influenza season, and for at-risk populations—including infants, the elderly and those with certain medical conditions—contracting the flu brings an increased risk for pneumonia. The combination of influenza and pneumonia consistently ranks among the top 10 causes of death in the Lone Star State, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services, and approximately 1 million Americans are believed to suffer from pneumonia annually.
We know that routine dental exams and professional teeth cleanings are important to your oral health as well as to your general health. A new study indicates regular dental checkups may also reduce your likelihood for developing pneumonia.
Open Wide: Pneumonia and Your Mouth
Pneumonia is a lung infection that may be related to a virus, such as a form of influenza, or bacteria. Certain bacteria that contribute to pneumonia take root in the mouth, and from there may be inhaled into the lungs.
Volumes of research over the years have proven that dental teeth cleanings eliminate harmful bacteria that foster plaque and tartar, and lead to cavities and periodontal disease. However, researchers who recently completed a large analysis of pneumonia cases believe regular dental checkups also diminish the bacteria that can cause pneumonia.
Bacterial Pneumonia and Dental Exams
A research team at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Division of Infectious Disease analyzed data from the 2013 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS). MEPS is a massive, nationwide survey of individuals, families, employers, insurance providers and medical providers about the use of health care services, including dental care.
Researchers examined more than 26,000 responses and honed in on 441 individual cases of bacterial pneumonia. They found that those who received no dental exams were nearly 90 percent more likely to have developed pneumonia than those who visited a dentist twice a year as recommended.
The research findings were presented at the IDWeek conference in October. IDWeek is a yearly scientific gathering hosted by the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
Your Dentist: A Partner in Whole-Body Health
Previous studies have connected oral infections such as gum disease with an increased risk for systemic health problems including pneumonia. The new research provides context for the scale of pneumonia risk and fortifies the link between our oral health and our overall well-being.
Every good dental exam should include an extensive teeth cleaning with specialized instruments that remove bacteria, plaque and tartar brushing alone can’t eradicate. The researchers behind the new study believe these cleaning sessions also reduce levels of pneumonia-related bacteria in the mouth and hinder the ability of remaining bacteria to reach the lungs. Your regular checkups also allow your dentist to assess for other conditions that may begin as dental problems or show early symptoms in the mouth.
From dental exams to cosmetic dentistry to restorative treatments, Austin dentist Dr. Dan Matthews offers a wide range of services to help you maintain a beautiful, healthy smile. Please call 512-452-2273 to schedule your appointment at our Bee Cave Road office.