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Oral Hygiene – Linking Oral Bacteria and Aspiration Pneumonia

Looking after your mouth is even more important than you might think. It’s common knowledge that reduced brushing and flossing can lead to tooth decay and gum disease. However, poor oral hygiene has also been linked to other serious conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, diabetes, stomach ulcers, dementia and some cancers. It can also lead to respiratory diseases, including aspiration pneumonia, which occurs when foreign material enters the airway and causes an infection in the lungs.

When the mouth is not clean, bacteria can grow and multiply quickly. If bacteria is inhaled (aspirated) with food, drink, or saliva, it’s much more likely that the person will develop aspiration pneumonia. People who have dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) have a higher risk of aspirating, as they may have difficulty protecting the airway while swallowing. This means that material can enter the trachea (windpipe) and travel towards the lungs. Aspiration pneumonia can be severe enough to cause death, particularly in the elderly or those with compromised immune systems.

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People at Increased Risk

People at increased risk of developing oral disease include the elderly and those who have:

·      Diabetes

·      Dementia

·      Osteoporosis

·      HIV/AIDS

·      Dry mouth (often as a result of a medical condition or medication)

·      High alcohol consumption

·      Tobacco use

·      Poor diets, especially those high in sugar

It has also been found that people who rely on others to perform their mouth care (i.e. a person who is physically or cognitively unable to perform their own hygiene tasks) are at significantly increased risk of developing oral health issues and aspiration pneumonia.


Maintaining a Healthy Mouth

The risk of developing aspiration pneumonia can be greatly reduced by maintaining a healthy mouth. It is important to:

·      Brush your teeth with a soft toothbrush at least twice a day, ensuring that all surfaces are free of residue (teeth, gums, tongue, palate [roof of mouth], inside cheeks, and under tongue)

·      Use a high fluoride toothpaste

·      Drink water or rinse your mouth out after meals to remove food particles

·      Avoid mouthwashes with ethanol (alcohol)

·      Use oral moisturising products if dry mouth is a problem

·      Avoid tobacco use

·      Limit alcohol consumption

·      Check regularly for any issues, such as redness, swelling, pain, bleeding, tooth discolouration, coating on oral surfaces or bad breath. If these are observed it is important to see a dentist or doctor promptly.

·      If wearing dentures, they should be removed and brushed twice a day, rinsed after meals and soaked in water overnight.


If you perform oral care for someone else, detailed information and instructions can be found in this resource, which was developed for staff in residential aged care.


Glenys is the Marketing Specialist at Precise. She looks after the Precise social media properties, the websites and manages the advertising requirements of the business. Away from work Glenys enjoys looking after her two boys and singing with her choir.



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