Toothbrushing Lowers Pneumonia Risk in Hospital, Study

Toothbrushing Lowers Pneumonia Risk in Hospital, Study

Sometimes, a hospital stay results in developing a new health problem. About 1 in 100 people develop pneumonia while in the hospital, but a new study reports that toothbrushing during hospital stays significantly reduced the likelihood of developing the potentially life-threatening infection.

Specifically, the study showed that hospitalized people who couldn’t breathe on their own and received mechanical ventilation therapy were less likely to develop pneumonia with twice-daily toothbrushing. Toothbrushing was also associated with reduced likelihood of dying while in the intensive care unit, shorter ICU stays, and reduced time that a person needed to be on a ventilator.

The findings were published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. Researchers analyzed data for about 2,800 hospitalized people, comparing those who stayed in the ICU and those who did not. There was no significant reduction in the risk of developing pneumonia in the hospital among non-ICU patients. There also was no further risk reduction when tooth-brushing occurred more than twice per day.

Pneumonia acquired while in the hospital typically is caused by oral microorganisms that enter the lungs through a process called aspiration, such as when saliva accidentally enters the airway instead of being swallowed.

“The signal that we see here towards lower mortality is striking — it suggests that regular toothbrushing in the hospital may save lives,” said researcher Michael Klompas, MD, MPH, an infectious disease doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in a statement. 

“It’s rare in the world of hospital preventative medicine to find something like this that is both effective and cheap,” said Klompas. “Instead of a new device or drug, our study indicates that something as simple as brushing teeth can make a big difference.”

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