Lowly toothbrush could protect you from hospital-borne pneumonia


London : The lowly toothbrush could protect you from ventilator associated pneumonia (VAP), which infects as many as 26,000 hospitalised people every year in the US alone.

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“Pneumonia is a big problem in hospitals everywhere, even in the developed world,” said Ofra Raanan, lecturer at Tel Aviv University’s (TAU) department of nursing, who conducted the study.

“Patients who are intubated can be contaminated with pneumonia only two or three days after the tube is put in place. But pneumonia can be effectively prevented if the right measures are taken,” Raanan added.

Raanan collaborated with a team of nurses at major medical centres around Israel. The nurses found that if patients – even unconscious ones – have their teeth brushed three times a day, the onset of pneumonia can be reduced by half, said a TAU release.

“While research shows a definite improvement in reducing the incidence of hospital-borne pneumonia, it’s hard to say by exactly how much toothbrushing prevents it.

“Sometimes, however, doctors and nurses do everything right and the patient still gets pneumonia. But this approach will certainly improve the odds for survival,” said Raanan.

Normally, the teeth and oral cavity in a healthy mouth maintain a colony of otherwise harmless bacteria. Infection takes root when a breathing tube allows free passage of the “good” bacteria into the lower parts of the lung.

The bacteria travel in small water droplets through the tube and colonise the lung. Once there, the bacteria take advantage of a patient’s weakened immune system and multiply. A regular toothbrushing kills the growth and subsequent spread of the bacterium that leads to VAP.

The study is scheduled for publication in a nursing journal.