A young girl is sick and having her temperature taken.

In case you didn’t notice, it’s officially cold and flu season. It’s also a time when many people can become ill with pneumonia. Vaccines and plenty of Vitamin C are obviously great ways to avoid getting sick, but did you know you may actually prevent pneumonia with regular dental checkups? That’s what research seems to indicate, anyway. Read on to see what the studies show, how oral health and pneumonia are related and how you can prevent pneumonia during this seasons of colder weather.

What Pneumonia Studies Show

According to an analysis of national survey data by Michelle Doll, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, Richmond, people who never visit a dentist in a given year are at an 86% higher risk for pneumonia than people who visit a dentist at least twice a year. Even people who visit the dentist once a year have a 49% higher risk for pneumonia than those with bi-annual visits, indicating the two have a connection.

How Oral Health and Pneumonia Are Related

Why do two dental visits per year make such a difference? The reason starts with oral bacteria. People always have oral bacteria in their mouths and breathe them into the lungs on occasion, but if there’s an increased amount of oral bacteria in the mouth, the resulting bacteria in the lungs can be problematic. You can limit oral bacteria by brushing and flossing, but you can’t get rid of hardened deposits of bacteria (called tartar) unless you visit your dentist. This is why the American Dental Association (ADA) officially recommends regular dental visits.

How You Can Reduce Your Risk of Pneumonia

While you can’t eliminate the bacteria in your mouth that can lead to pneumonia, you can do your best to reduce the amount of it with proper oral hygiene. “It is believed that in persons with good oral hygiene, there is less potentially pathogenic bacteria tracking into the lung and causing disease,” Dr. Doll explained. “Even in healthy persons, small quantities of saliva can aspirate into the lung. The content of that saliva depends on one’s overall oral health. If there are pathogenic bacteria, this could cause pneumonia” To maximize your oral hygiene, visit your dentist at least twice per year.

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