Regular Dental Care Can Reduce Risk of Pneumonia

Dental Visits Cut Risk of Pneumonia

Dr. Michelle Doll and colleagues from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond analyzed information on 26,687 individuals from the Medical Expenditure Panel – a set of surveys of families and individuals across the United States – to look for factors that could reduce the risk of pneumonia.

The researchers were able to determine the number of dental visits in a year and compared this information with medical diagnosis codes for bacterial pneumonia. 441 individuals of the group had an episode of pneumonia in the same year as information was available about dental visits.

Dental care visit that may reduce the risk of pneumonia

Dental care visit

Results: Of those who developed pneumonia, 34% reported having at least two dental checkups a year compared with 46% of those who did not have regular dental visits. For those who never had a dental visit in the year, the risk of pneumonia was 86% higher than those who had two visits to the dentist in the same year.

Additional analysis showed that white race, older age, other medical problems, and lower health status were statistically associated with an increased risk of pneumonia.

These findings were recently presented at the Annual Infectious Disease (ID) Week meeting in New Orleans.

Arrows show pneumonia in the fight lung

Arrows show pneumonia in the right lung

My Comments: Bacterial pneumonia is a serious illness, and may be life threatening in those who have COPD. Anything that can be done to reduce the risk of pneumonia is important. There is a direct link or conduit between the mouth and the lungs.

Most episodes of bacterial pneumonia are due to bacteria in the mouth “slipping down” into the lungs. This is called aspiration. This process typically happens during sleep. As long as the number of bacteria that reach the lungs is small and as long as the immune system (fights infections) of the person is good, pneumonia does not usually occur.

Make sure to practice good dental hygiene and have regular checkups with your dentist.


Antibiotic for Chest Cold

Dear Dr. Mahler:

I usually get 1 to 2 chest colds each winter.  Typically, I have some congestion, may cough up mucus, and find that my breathing is harder. Sometimes the mucus is clear white, and other times it is yellow or green color. Otherwise, I do pretty good with my breathing taking Spiriva and Symbicort for my COPD. I am confused because some times my doctor will prescribe an antibiotic like Z-pak, while other times his nurse says “to wait it out.”  What are your thoughts?

Ken from Rancho Palos Verdes, CA 

Dear Ken:

Many healthy people have a chest cold each year, usually in the winter time. A chest cold may be due to viruses (at least 25 different kinds) and bacteria (probably more than 100 possible bacteria). For someone like you who has COPD, the most important sign that the chest infection is caused by a bacteria is the  color of the mucus that you cough up. Yellow or green mucus is generally due to a bacterial infection. If the infection involves your breathing tubes, it is called “acute bronchitis;” if the infection involves your air sacs (alveoli), it is called “pneumonia.”  A fever, a sick feeling, and fatigue are more likely with pneumonia compared with acute bronchitis.

Different antibiotics are prescribed to treat chest infections. Your doctor will select an antibiotic based on answers to the following questions:

  1. how severe is your COPD?
  2. when was your last chest infection and what antibiotic was used?
  3. how many chest infections have you had in the past 6 – 12 months?

I encourage you to discuss this information with your doctor so that together you have a “game plan,” also called an Action Plan, if/when you have another chest infection. Also, make sure to tell your doctor if you have any allergies to medications.

Best wishes,

Donald A. Mahler, M.D.