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How a visit to the dentist can help prevent pneumonia

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Regular trips to the dentist could do more than keep your teeth and gums healthy. They may also decrease the risk of pneumonia by reducing bacteria in the mouth, suggests research presented at IDWeek 2016.

Of the nearly 1 million Americans who become ill with the infection every year, 50,000 of them die. While it is more common among older people and those with conditions such as AIDS or lung disease, anyone can get pneumonia. Researchers analyzed data obtained from the 2013 Medical Expediture Panel Survey, which asks about healthcare utilization (including dental care), costs and patient satisfaction. They found 441 of 26,246 people in the database had bacterial pneumonia (1.68%) and that those who never had dental checkups had an 86% increased risk of pneumonia compared to those who visit the dentist twice a year.

"There is a well-documented connection between oral health and pneumonia, and dental visits are important in maintaining good oral health," said Michelle Doll, MD, lead author of the study and assistant professor of internal medicine in the Division of Infectious Disease at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond. "We can never rid the mouth of bacteria altogether, but good oral hygiene can limit the quantities of bacteria present."

The body contains 10 times as many microbes (bacteria, fungi and viruses) as human cells on or in the body, from the skin to the gastrontestinal system (including the mouth). Some microbes are good and some are bad, but even bad microbes only cause disease under certain circumstances. In some cases, bacteria can be accidentally inhaled or aspirated into the lungs and cause pneumonia. Bacteria that commonly cause pneumonia include streptococcus, haemophilus, staphylococcus and anaerobic bacteria. Routine dental visits may reduce the amount of bacteria that can be aspirated, according to Doll.

"Our study provides further evidence that oral health is linked to overall health, and suggests that it's important to incorporate dental care into routine preventative health care," said Doll.

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