Seeing This Doctor Regularly Can Help Prevent Pneumonia

Surprise! It's not your primary care physician. See your dentist twice a year to lower your odds of developing dangerous and contagious respiratory infections.

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Stinky breath and yellow teeth should be the least of your worries if you’re not seeing your dentist twice a year for your teeth cleanings. New research shows that keeping up with your regular dental visits not only keeps your teeth and gums healthy, but it may also decrease your risk of pneumonia—a disease that kills nearly 50,000 Americans each year.

In a new study presented at IDWeek 2016, an annual scientific conference on infectious diseases, researchers examined data from the 2013 Medical Expediture Panel Survey, which asked patients about dental care, costs, and overall dental satisfaction. The results showed that while only about 1.7 percent of participants had bacterial pneumonia, those who never had a dental exam faced an 86 percent increased risk of pneumonia compared to those who saw their dentist for their twice a year checkups.

“There is a well-documented connection between oral health and pneumonia, and dental visits are important in maintaining good oral health,” said Michelle Doll, MD, lead author of the study and assistant professor of internal medicine in the Division of Infectious Disease at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond. “We can never rid the mouth of bacteria altogether, but good oral hygiene can limit the quantities of bacteria present.”

The mouth is filled with bacteria, both good and bad, but brushing your teeth regularly, flossing, and seeing your dentist twice a year will help keep the bacteria—including those that cause pneumonia, which is most commonly streptococcus, haemophilus, staphylococcus, and anaerobic bacteria—from being accidentally inhaled or aspirated into the lungs, which is how microbes cause disease.

This isn’t the first health benefit linked to good oral hygiene. Earlier findings suggest that if you take proper care of your teeth and gums, your chances of heart disease dramatically decrease. Poor oral hygiene has even been linked to premature birth and low-weight births, so it’s important to stay up to date on your dental care routine. Here are surprising diseases your dentist can detect first.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest