Oral Health and Pneumonia in Older Adults

A recent study has drawn connections between the bacteria in one's mouth and an older adult with swallowing problems contracting pneumonia. Another study examines the steps needed to prevent this from occurring.

A 2018 study found that when aging patients frequently aspirate saliva, they may be inhaling bacteria from their mouth (particularly bacteria residing on their tongues). These bacteria can contribute to the development of pneumonia in these nursing home patients.pneumonia - paid - shutterstock 1160250262

The researchers determined that several oral health issues contributed to the development of pneumonia. They found that patients with poor oral health were at greater risk than others. The problems they identified were:
• Fewer teeth
• Poorer dental hygiene
• More dental caries
They concluded that attention should be given to the bacteria being transferred to the lungs due to aspiration related to a swallowing problem in these senior adults.

A second study, reported last week, found that the number of cases of pneumonia at nursing homes is reduced when oral care programs are initiated and sustained. This study involved 2,153 patients from 14 nursing homes. From this group, 1,219 patients received oral care from staff specifically trained to provide this care; the remaining 933 patients functioned as controls.

The nursing homes of the patients given the oral care program observed a 31% reduction in the number of pneumonia cases during the first year of the program. Unfortunately, this level of improvement was not sustained in the second year of the study.

In addition to some data acquisition limitations of the study, the researchers concluded that sustainability of care was a significant factor in the second-year results. They pointed out that the oral care program requires both trained personnel and time to implement the program. Both are in short supply in most nursing homes. They concluded that long-term sustainability of the positive results of the program may require dedicated staff trained as oral care aides.