By Carol A. Kemper, MD, FACP

Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine, Stanford University, Division of Infectious Diseases, Santa Clara Valley Medical Center

Dr. Kemper reports no financial relationships relevant to this field of study.

SOURCE: Doll M, Kelly K, Ratliff S, et al. Access to dental care and the risk of pneumonia: The importance of healthy teeth. IDWeek Thursday afternoon poster session, Oct. 27, 2016; New Orleans.

Dentists have seized on data presented at IDWeek in New Orleans in October, and for good reason. It is generally believed that dental care is important to overall good health, nutritional status, and a reduction in certain kinds of infection. Indeed, data derived from the 2013 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) found that a lack of routine dental care may be associated with an increased risk of pneumonia.

MEPS is administered by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and evaluates national data on healthcare utilization and cost, with data garnered from individual households.

Data from the 2013 survey included questions regarding the number of annual dental visits, the frequency of dental check-ups, and the presence of dental insurance during the previous two years. In addition, the survey identified 441 individuals diagnosed with at least one episode of pneumonia in 2013 (1.68% of the sample).

In simple and bivariate logistical analyses, Caucasian race, older age, a perception of general poor health, a lack of dental insurance, and a lower frequency of dental visits were each significantly associated with an increased risk of pneumonia. Individuals with no routine dental check-ups in the previous two years had an 86% increased risk of pneumonia compared to those with two or more routine annual dental check-ups (confidence interval, 1.30-1.65; P = 0.0008). In a complex multivariate model, an increased frequency of routine dental check-ups remained significantly associated with a lower risk of pneumonia. Interestingly, while the presence of dental insurance was strongly associated with the frequency of dental check-ups, dental insurance did not appear to affect the risk of pneumonia in the final statistical model.