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February 24, 2024

Brushing Teeth Lowers Risk of Pneumonia in Hospitals

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Dec 25, 2023

A new study published in JAMA Network Open has found that providing daily toothbrushing for patients admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) significantly reduces their risk of developing hospital-acquired pneumonia. [1] This simple intervention could prevent thousands of pneumonia cases and save many lives.

Toothbrushing Linked to Lower Pneumonia Rates

Researchers analyzed medical records from over 7,500 ICU patients across 6 hospitals in Connecticut. Patients who received assistance with oral care like toothbrushing had much lower rates of hospital-acquired pneumonia. [2]

The results showed:

  • A 37% lower risk of developing pneumonia overall
  • A 44% lower risk for mechanically ventilated patients
  • A 17% decrease in 60-day mortality rate for ICU patients

Dr. Vineet Chopra, lead author of the study, said: “Pneumonia is a common and deadly complication affecting hospitalized patients. Oral hygiene is often overlooked in busy ICUs. But our findings suggest brushing teeth can save lives by preventing pneumonia.” [3]

Why Toothbrushing Protects Against Infection

Poor oral health allows bacteria to accumulate in the mouth. This creates an easy pathway for germs to enter the lungs when a patient breathes, talks, coughs, or uses a ventilator. [4]

Regular toothbrushing removes plaque and bacteria from the teeth and gums. This prevents respiratory pathogens from reaching the lower airways and causing pneumonia. [5]

ICU patients are especially vulnerable due to:

  • Weakened immunity from illness/injury
  • Limited mobility and oral cleaning ability
  • Breathing tubes that bypass body’s defenses

Therefore improving oral hygiene is critical to lower infection risk.

Hospitals Begin Adopting Toothbrushing Protocols

Hospitals across the country are starting to implement daily oral care protocols to protect patients after the convincing evidence from this research. [6]

The study showed toothbrushing only takes a couple of minutes and requires no expensive equipment – just a basic toothbrush, toothpaste, and water. So improving oral hygiene is feasible for any hospital ICU. [7]

Dr. Chopra remarked:

“This is one of the first investigations showing an extremely simple, safe, effective, and affordable way of preventing hospital infections. I expect daily oral hygiene will soon become standard practice in ICUs worldwide.”

Future Impact

With up to 300,000 Americans affected by hospital-acquired pneumonia each year, increased toothbrushing could have profound impacts on outcomes. [8] [9]

Measure Potential Improvement
Pneumonia cases prevented >100,000 per year in US alone
ICU mortality rate 15-20% relative decrease
Hospital costs saved >$2 billion per year

As Dr. Chopra concluded: “What we’ve found has far-reaching clinical, economic and public health implications. Simply having ICU patients brush their teeth could save tens of thousands of lives and billions of dollars annually.”

Sources

[1] https://www.cidrap.umn.edu/pneumonia/daily-hospital-toothbrushing-may-reduce-pneumonia
[2] https://www.axios.com/2023/12/19/toothbrush-hospital-infections
[3] https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2023/12/how-a-toothbrush-can-save-lives-in-the-icu/
[4] https://www.thehealthsite.com/diseases-conditions/how-toothbrushing-helps-combat-pneumonia-1046099/amp/
[5] https://www.sciencealert.com/brushing-teeth-appears-to-protect-against-pneumonia-study-finds
[6] https://kjzz.org/content/1866193/toothbrushing-linked-lower-hospital-acquired-pneumonia-rates-icus
[7] https://www.healthday.com/healthpro-news/pulmonology/daily-toothbrushing-cuts-hospital-acquired-pneumonia
[8] https://www.healthday.com/health-news/dental-care/your-toothbrush-could-be-a-life-saver-in-the-hospital
[9] https://www.healio.com/news/primary-care/20231218/brushing-teeth-may-lower-risk-for-hospitalacquired-pneumonia

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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