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Better Dental Hygiene Linked to Fewer Hospital Infections
August 21, 2013

By Nancy Volkers
InteliHealth News Service

INTELIHEALTH -- Improving people's dental hygiene before surgery reduces their risk of hospital-acquired pneumonia, a study finds.

The study was done in Brazil. It included 226 patients. All were admitted during a 6-month period to a public hospital in Rio de Janeiro. They needed surgery for either coronary artery disease or valve disease.

Before their surgeries, they were given dental exams. They also were taught how to brush their teeth (or dentures) and tongue. They used a chlorhexidine rinse twice a day until the day of their surgery.

After surgery, 18 of the 226 were diagnosed with pneumonia. People with plaque on their tongues or poorly cleaned dentures were at much greater risk for pneumonia.

Among the 18 people with pneumonia, 33.3% died. Of the 208 people without pneumonia, 4.3% died.

Hospital staff continued the instruction on oral care and the use of chlorhexidine rinse after the study ended. The researchers compared rates of pneumonia in the intensive care unit 6 months before the study began and 6 months after it ended. They saw a 69% drop in pneumonia cases during that time.

A recent review of studies found that oral health care is important for patients on ventilators. Review authors collected information from 35 studies. They included a total of 5,374 patients. The review showed that the use of chlorhexidine mouthwash or gel reduced the risk of pneumonia by 40%. Other types of oral care (such as tooth brushing) did not appear to reduce the risk of pneumonia.

The Brazilian study appears in the August 7 issue of the journal Intensive Care Medicine.

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