Study emphasizes the importance of oral hygiene in overall health

March 5th, 2014

Many people, even those working within the medical community, don't realize how interconnected the systems of our bodies are, especially in regard to oral health. The mouth acts as the body's gate to the outside world. It's how we eat food, drink water and, most importantly, it's how we breathe. Unfortunately, when we're sick, people are less inclined to brush and floss regularly, which can lead to a buildup of bacteria on our gums and teeth. With each breath, those harmful germs are being ushered into the lungs, and subsequently our blood stream, where they can be distributed throughout our entire body. It's the responsibility of dentists and their support staff to educate patients on proper oral hygiene, including when their mouths are most in danger, and dental school software can help.

One of the most prevalent illnesses plaguing young and old individuals in the United States is pneumonia. In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 1.1 million people in the country were hospitalized as a result of the lung infection, and 50,000 people died. Worldwide, a child dies from pneumonia every 20 seconds.

There are certain risk factors for pneumonia that can't be avoided, like age, but a recent joint study from California State University, Sacramento, and Sutter Medical Center, discovered that by improving oral health, doctors could reduce the risk of contracting pneumonia.

Sutter Medical Center
Researchers examined patients at Sutter Medical Center who had contracted the lung infection but were not previously on a ventilator. Before, medical center staff had looked into patients who were getting pneumonia while in the hospital, but the focus had been on those already using ventilators. The thought was that poor equipment maintenance was responsible, but after clinical nurse specialist Barbara Quinn notice more and more non-ventilator patients were suffering from hospital-acquired pneumonia, researchers began looking into the phenomenon.

The study revealed that by simply breathing, patients were effectively ushering harmful bacteria down their esophagus and into their lungs. And since people were less likely to keep up with daily oral hygiene routines while hospitalized, people with poor oral health were putting themselves at a higher risk than anybody, with no staff to warn them otherwise.

"Not only are hospitals not paying attention to this, but we as a nursing profession were not aware that oral hygiene was so important for patients not on ventilators," Dian Baker, a nursing professor at CSUS and researcher, said. "I tell all my friends now before they go to the hospital to see the dentist before they go, and brush their teeth four times a day."

In response to the findings, Sutter Medical Center began stocking plenty of dental care products and trained staff on proper hygiene techniques, and they've seen excellent results. After a year, non-ventilator hospital-acquired pneumonia has dropped by nearly 40 percent.

Addressing the big picture
Medical staff at Sutter Medical Center has managed to identify and effectively address their oral health problems. However, what the study truly pointed out is that education about the importance of oral health is severally lacking, even amongst those already working in the medical community.

The responsibility to keep patients informed about matters of the mouth falls to dentists, but unfortunately fast-paced schedules and multiple patient work days make it hard for any extended communication outside of the office.

By investing in dental academic software, university clinics can equip their staff with the means to easily keep in touch with patients. Leveraging digital innovations, doctors can share files, send out automated appointment reminders, fill prescriptions and help educate people on the ins and out and proper oral care, staring with: Don't shirk brushing and flossing when you're sick.

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