CARDIFF, Wales — Could losing your teeth lead to a potentially-fatal respiratory condition? Although dentures allow many people to lead normal lives after losing their teeth, a new study warns that needing dentures also has a surprising link to pneumonia.
An inflammation of the lower respiratory tract caused by air sacs in the lungs filling with either pus or various forms of bacteria, pneumonia is a serious condition at any age. However, the lung infection disproportionately affects older adults (ages 65+). Interestingly, researchers from the United Kingdom now say wearing dentures could trigger this illness.
To start, study authors from Cardiff University collected mouth, tongue, and denture swabs from a group of hospitalized patients who both had pneumonia and wore dentures. They compared those samples to denture-wearing patients in nursing facilities who did not have pneumonia.
Next, they analyzed all samples in an attempt to identify the abundance and types of microbes present. More specifically, the research team was looking for microbes known to potentially cause pneumonia, as well as if there were any significant differences between the two groups.
“We were expecting to see a difference but were surprised to see 20 times the number of potentially pneumonia-causing bacteria on dentures in people with pneumonia, compared to people without.” says Dr. Josh Twigg, lead author of the study, in a media release.
Dirty dentures may be the cause
Dr. Twigg and his team speculate that dentures may play a role in causing pneumonia. If users don’t clean fake teeth properly, they could make for an ideal new surface for disease-causing microbes to colonize. As such, people wearing dentures may be aspirating (inhaling) saliva containing harmful microbes into their lungs, eventually leading to an infection taking hold.
However, while this study identifies a possible connection, “you certainly couldn’t say that people got pneumonia because they were wearing dentures. It’s just showing that there is an association there. This research is an early step in trying to unravel that puzzle of what exactly is the sequence of events,” Dr. Twigg explains.
While more research is necessary, Dr. Twigg believes the public can still learn from these findings.
“Our research has shown that there are potentially harmful microbial communities on dentures. It is important to clean dentures thoroughly,” he concludes.
Researchers suggest people make sure to regularly visit their dentist for check-ups and take the time to learn the best ways to care for their oral health. Ideally, Dr. Twigg says, more people will also avoid needing to wear dentures in the future by doing this.
The study is published in Journal of Medical Microbiology.
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