Study: Dental visits cut pneumonia risk


October 28, 2016 — Patients with regularly scheduled dental visits are less likely to come down with pneumonia, according to a new study. Researchers studied data from more than 26,000 patients to reach this conclusion, and they presented their findings in a poster presentation at the Infectious Diseases Society of America annual meeting (IDWeek 2016), held this week in New Orleans.

“There is a well-documented connection between oral health and pneumonia, and dental visits are important in maintaining good oral health,” stated lead study author Michelle Doll, MD, MPH, in an IDWeek press release. “We can never rid the mouth of bacteria altogether, but good oral hygiene can limit the quantities of bacteria present.”

Dr. Doll is an assistant professor of internal medicine in the division of infectious disease at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Lack of dental insurance

“We can never rid the mouth of bacteria altogether, but good oral hygiene can limit the quantities of bacteria present.”

— Michelle Doll, MD, MPH

Overall, about 1 million Americans are diagnosed with pneumonia annually, and 50,000 die from the infectious disease, according to the researchers. Many pneumonias result from oral secretions into a patient’s respiratory tract, they noted.

Using data from the 2013 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, the researchers analyzed information from more than 26,000 patients. They tracked access to dental care, whether the patient had dental insurance, pneumonia treatments over a two-year period, and more.

Almost 450 of the 26,600 patients were diagnosed with pneumonia at least once during this period. The authors reported that lack of dental insurance and the “inability to access needed care” were significantly associated with a pneumonia diagnosis (see table below).

Frequency of dental visits and pneumonia diagnosis
Frequency of dental visit Pneumonia
(total = 441)
No pneumonia
(total = 26,246)
More than twice a year 141 (34.2%) 10,168 (45.9%)
Once a year 86 (16.4%) 6,380 (21.5%)
Less than once a year 79 (19.9%) 4,449 (16.5%)
Never 135 (29.4%) 4,649 (16.2%)

Data adapted from “Access to Dental Care and Risk of Pneumonia: The Importance of Healthy Teeth.”

The authors also noted that having dental insurance was not significantly associated with a risk of pneumonia.

Decreasing pneumonia risk

The study authors reported that there was a relatively small portion of the patient sample who were diagnosed with pneumonia and also had dental insurance, which was a limitation. They also noted that the reason patients visit their dentist is not limited to either good or bad oral health.

“Pneumonia risk appears to be decreased in those who customarily attend routine dental checkups, consistent with data that good oral health is protective,” the authors concluded.

By Tony Edwards, Editor in Chief, Dr Bicuspid

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