In 2008, researchers at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis completed a year long study which shows that a simple and inexpensive way to reduce the risk of potentially deadly pneumonia in intensive care patients is to keep their teeth clean.
This interesting study was performed by nurse specialists in the intensive care unit (ICU) at the hospital along with Washington University physicians. Their study group involved ICU patients that were on breathing machines.
Their findings revealed that if these patients had their teeth brushed on a regular basis, i.e., twice daily, the incidence of ventilator- associated pneumonia was reduced by 46 percent! This type of pneumonia is the most common hospital acquired infection in critically ill patients and is a leading cause of complications and death.
State University of New York at Buffalo oral biology professor Frank Scannapieco has also performed research showing a link between poor oral hygiene and an increased risk of bacterial pneumonia. He agrees that the teeth may be an important reservoir for those bacteria to establish themselves in the mouth. Dr. Scannapieco concluded that if you can minimize the bacteria found in the teeth and gum tissue, you can reduce the risk of lung infection.
The study provided by Barnes-Jewish hospital is a classic example of what is termed “the focal infection.” Definition of focal infection: A bacterial infection localized in a specific part of the body, such as the oral cavity, that may spread by way of the bloodstream to another gland or tissue, i.e., lungs, and start a whole new infection.
Although this medical term has not received much attention, the focal infection theory was discovered almost 75 years ago by Weston Price, D.D.S., a biological dentist.
His extensive research with oral bacteria indicated that these microbes could travel not only to the lungs, but also to other major organ systems such as the heart, kidneys, stomach, thyroid, muscles, and joints. Dr. Price concluded that the whole body can be exposed to these microorganisms.
Some of these offending microbes found in the mouth include streptococcus mutans, porphyromonas gingivalis and actinobacellus actinomycetemcomitans.
I think it’s exciting to observe that similar results can still be duplicated even after such a lengthy time between studies. Dr. Price’s work in the 1930s also concluded that many serious infections originate from the mouth.
The study performed by Barnes-Jewish hospital confirms, once again, the impact of the oral cavity on the rest of the body. A healthy mouth supports a healthy body. Regular check-ups and cleanings with your dentist are not only a good idea but may even save your life.