Pneumonia is the leading cause of death in elderly nursing home residents, Dr. Carol W. Bassim and colleagues point out in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. "Several studies have shown that poor oral hygiene or inadequate oral care are also associated with pneumonia," they add.
Bassim, now at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research in Bethesda, Maryland, and her associates studied the impact of enhanced oral hygiene care for residents in two wards at a Florida nursing home compared with residents in two other wards.
Initially, there was no difference in the mortality rate from pneumonia between the two groups. However, patients in the oral care group were older and more disabled than those who did not receive oral care, and once this was taken into account the risk of dying from pneumonia was more than three times higher in patients who did not receive oral care.
Pneumonia in the elderly is often triggered by aspirating saliva or food. It is likely that the risk of pneumonia "depends on the quality and the quantity of the oropharyngeal contents of a patient at the time of respiratory inoculation or introduction," Bassim and colleagues explain.
"The quantity of saliva inhaled and a predisposition to gross aspiration events may not be modified through oral care," they add, "but this study indicates that oral care may be involved in significantly reducing the harmful quality of the intra-oral environment, reducing the risk of a patient dying from pneumonia."
SOURCE: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.