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Want to avoid pneumonia? Get your teeth cleaned!

The results of a study of 26,000 people to be presented this week at the annual meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America found that people who never got their teeth cleaned were 86% more likely to get bacterial pneumonia than people who had cleanings twice a year.

For a summary see: 

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Our mouths are chock full of bacteria. When their levels increase, they can cause problems not only in the mouth, like cavities and gum disease, but also infections of the inner lining of the heart (endocarditis), coronary artery disease (clogged heart arteries) and stroke, and even premature birth and low birth weight. (Mayo Clinic, 2016) As a result of the study above, bacterial pneumonia can now be added to the list.

The millions of bacteria in our mouths along with food particles, saliva and other substances adhere to our teeth and form plaque. You know this stuff, it’s that white soft, sticky substance that collects between your teeth and at the gum line. When plaque hardens, it turns into a hard, white chalk like material better known as tartar.

Even if we brush twice a day and floss like we’re supposed to, plaque still forms. It is the bacteria in plaque that we breathe into our lungs which causes pneumonia.  (Paju & Scannapieco, 2007).  Regular dental cleaning removes plaque which lowers the level of bacteria in our mouth and, according to the results of this study, lower the risk of bacterial pneumonia.

So, brush your teeth twice a day, floss once a day and have your teeth cleaned twice a year or more frequently depending on the recommendation of your dentist or dental hygienist. 

Here’s what to expect when you get your teeth cleaned:

  • A physical examination of your mouth checking your teeth and gums for any signs of gingivitis (inflamed gums) or other abnormalities
  • Scaling (scraping) of your teeth to remove tartar and plaque from the gum line and between the teeth.
  •  Polishing to remove any remaining tartar
  • Flossing to remove any leftover plaque and toothpaste from polishing
  • Rinsing with mouthwash or fluoride rinse to remove debris from the cleaning
  • A fluoride treatment to help protect your teeth from cavities

If you have dental insurance, most plans pay 100% for preventative care, such as cleanings.


For more information:

American Academy of Periodontology –

Healthy Gums May Lead to Healthy Lungs:

American Dental Association -

American Dental Hygienist Association:

National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research:

            Oral health -

National Institute on Aging –

Taking care of your teeth and mouth -

Centers for Disease Control –

              Pneumonia -


Joanna Hayden, PhD, CHES is the principal of Associates for Health Education and Behavior, LLC, in Sparta, a practice focused on improving health through education. Her office offers individual and group health education, and individual health behavior change guidance.  For more information please see  To contact Dr. Hayden, email her

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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