Mouth care prevents pneumonia.
Surgeon General C. Everett Koop once said, “You are not healthy without good oral health.”
If a family member is ill, or needs help from others at home, in a hospital, nursing home, or in a personal care facility, a lot of time and attention is focused on tests, treatments, therapy, and personal hygiene. An area that often ranks lower in priority for personal hygiene is mouth care. Mouth care should not be neglected as there is a link between mouth care and pneumonia.
Pneumonia is the most common cause of hospital acquired infection, beating out urinary tract infections and blood borne infections. A person with pneumonia is also more likely to have a re-admission to the hospital within 30 days than patients without a hospital-acquired infection.
Even if a person didn’t have pneumonia when entering the hospital, the chance of pneumonia develops quickly. When a person becomes ill, the bacteria which normally grows in the mouth changes. In a normal, healthy person, there are 20 billion bacteria in our mouths that grow and multiply every 4-6 hours. Patients aspirate these bacteria while sleeping, coughing, and simply breathing. Colgate developed an Internet campaign this year to educate the public about this topic.
Even healthy adults inhale bacteria while sleeping from lying on the back and taking sedating medicine like sleeping pills and pain medicine. For a person who is in the hospital with a weakened immune system, this inhaled bacteria can quickly become pneumonia. Limited movement and expansion of the lungs while sick in bed increases the risk.
When a loved one is ill, their daily self-care pattern is disrupted, they may lack energy from exhaustion, lack of sleep and illness, and so the desire to perform basic self care is often lacking. Caregivers must encourage and assist the person and advocate on the ill one’s behalf to be sure basic needs such as mouth care are performed.
Lack of adequate supplies, and poor daily personal care routines contribute to this problem. Providing a soft-bristled toothbrush, alcohol-free antiseptic mouthwash, petroleum-free lip moisturizers, and sodium bicarbonate toothpaste supplies all help remove dental plaque and bacteria that cause pneumonia. Denture cleansers and adhesive paste are often missing from patient supplies, so families can help by providing these supplies also.
The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) recommends that all hospitalized patients receive comprehensive oral care. When visiting a loved one who cannot remember or needs support in getting mouth care, you can help prevent infection by supporting your loved one in completing mouth care, or advocate for their need by asking support staff to aid the patient in completing mouth care. This will make a difference in your loved one’s life by preventing a costly infection, and potentially a deadly illness, in a very real way.
Some additional tips for helping a loved one with dental care every day is provided at The National Institute of Health and The National Guideline Clearinghouse at the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research.