Top dentist stresses the advantages of looking after your teeth in winter as new research links oral bacteria with pneumonia

A leading dentist has urged people to keep up good oral health in the winter as doing so “can really help stave off illness”.
Dr. Nigel Carter, chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, points to the fact that there are well-documented links between gum disease and overall health to justify his advice.

He said: “During the winter months we’re all susceptible to colds, coughs and chesty viruses due to the drop in temperature.” However, he believes that taking steps to try and prevent these winter ailments can be very easy.

Dr. Carter recommends that a good starting point for building up your health – and immunity to winter illnesses – should include:

• Brushing your teeth for two minutes twice a day using a fluoride toothpaste
• Cleaning in between the gaps in teeth daily by using interdental brushes or floss
• Reducing consumption of sugary foods and drinks

Dr. Carter also stresses how helpful it is to regularly visit a dentist. Putney dentist Ethicare has a hygienist who can give teeth a thorough winter clean.

‘Link’ between oral bacteria and pneumonia

The dentist’s advice came in the same week (28th December 2011) that new research from America was published which identified a link between the presence of oral bacteria and an increased risk of pneumonia.

A study at Yale University examined 37 subjects during a one-month period.

Of these, 19 were healthy adults with an average age of 60; ten nursing home residents with an average age of 60; and eight were ‘mechanically-ventilated’ patients with an average age of 51.

The study found that changes in the level of bacteria in the mouth occurred before pneumonia was contracted. Lead researcher Dr. Samit Joshi, commenting on the study, said: “This suggests that changes in oral bacteria play a role in the risk for developing pneumonia.”

The findings were presented on 22nd October 2011 at the Infectious Diseases Society of America annual meeting but were not made public until last month.

It is not the first time that a link between pneumonia and oral health has been made. It is widely-believed that bacterial chest infections can result from lungs absorbing fine droplets from the throat and mouth when a person breathes. These chest infections can lead to infections such as pneumonia.

Research conducted in 2008 at Kyushu University in Japan found that the mortality rate among 697 subjects was almost five times higher among those with deep ‘periodontal pockets’ resulting from gum disease.

About pneumonia

Pneumonia is usually caused by an infection and is the swelling of the tissue in one or both lungs. Symptoms typically involve coughing and breathing difficulties and vulnerable pneumonia sufferers (babies, young children, the elderly and those with other medical problems) can need hospital treatment.

According to the NHS website, one in 100 British adults is affected by pneumonia each year with the condition becoming more common in the autumn and the winter.

Although further research is needed to determine the exact relationship between oral health and pneumonia, it is a great idea to take steps to look after your teeth all-year round.

It’s still not too late to add ‘brushing and flossing teeth more regularly’ to your list of New Year resolutions!

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