NEW ORLEANS — A study of public health records showed that patients who never visit the dentist face a significantly higher risk for pneumonia than those who have dental checkups twice a year.
The study builds upon previous research showing the importance of oral health for pneumonia prevention, particularly among higher-risk individuals, according to Michelle E. Doll, MD, MPH, assistant professor in the department of internal medicine and associate hospital epidemiologist in the division of infectious diseases at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center.
Michelle E. Doll
“While you may perform your routine brushing and oral hygiene at home, there probably is a benefit of making that yearly or bi-yearly trip to the dentist to get evaluated and to get a deeper cleaning done, particularly as we age and have other risk factors,” Doll said during a news conference at IDWeek 2016.
Doll and colleagues used 2013 data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) to link patients who were diagnosed with bacterial pneumonia with their dental health habits. MEPS included questions about what kind of dental coverage patients had, how many times they visited the dentist in the past year, and how often they go to the dentist as a routine.
Of the 26,246 patients in the database, 1.68% (n = 441) had pneumonia. Among them, those who never had dental checkups had an 86% greater risk for pneumonia compared with those who went twice a year (95% CI, 1.3-2.65).
Additionally, Doll said, individuals who went to the dentist less than once a year had a 49% increased risk for pneumonia compared with those who had more frequent checkups.
Even when controlling for other well-known risk factors such as age and comorbidities, Doll and colleagues found that dental care was still important in pneumonia prevention. It can lower a patient’s risk by reducing the number of bacteria in the mouth that can be aspirated — bacteria such as streptococcus, haemophilus, staphylococcus, and anaerobic bacteria that routinely cause pneumonia.
As an infectious disease physician, Doll said she is often frustrated by an inability to address poor dental health in her patients because she knows there are potential consequences to their overall health.
“What can we do today? Probably not a lot,” she concluded. “But I think as we go forward and we talk about preventive care, I think it would be good not to forget the teeth as part of the whole body and general wellness because routine dental care probably isn’t that cost intensive and could potentially save money down the road.” – by Gerard Gallagher
Doll M, et al. Abstract 678. Presented at: IDWeek; Oct. 26-30, 2016; New Orleans.
Disclosures: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.