Aspiration of oral bacteria with saliva or food is the predominant cause of pneumonia in older adults. A study investigated whether professional oral health management (OHM) by dental hygienists was associated with a lower incidence of pneumonia in older adults residing in long-term care (LTC) facilities.
Professional OHM by dental hygienists was indicated if the LTC facility staff could not maintain optimal oral health of the residents. A facility nurse determined the need for dental hygienist-delivered professional OHM for residents based on specific criteria. A dental hygienist provided oral hygiene at least twice a month and guidance to the LTC nursing staff. Professional OHM included not only oral care aimed at removing oral deposits, with an emphasis on oral hygiene, but also oral care with an emphasis on maintaining and improving oral function to preserve oral nutrition intake.
A total of 349 (69%) residents required OHM by dental hygienists. Of those, 238 (68%) were provided with OHM, and 18 (7.5%) developed pneumonia. Among the 111 (32%) residents who were not provided with OHM, 21 (19%) developed pneumonia. The OHM group had lower pneumonia rates than the non-OHM group during the one-year follow-up period
The authors concluded oral health management by dental hygienists was associated with a lower incidence of pneumonia among residents of LTC facilities, underlining the importance of professional OHM. They recommended OHM be practised routinely in LTC facilities.