Svitlana Hulko Creative #: 1734472088 License type: Royalty-free Collection: iStock / Getty Images Plu
65835296effc32001e485f06 Microsoftteamsimage 104

"Effective and cheap": How toothbrushing can actually save lives

Dec. 20, 2023
Results from a recent study suggest that among its many benefits, regular toothbrushing reduces rates of pneumonia for hospitalized patients. Learn more.
Elizabeth S. Leaver, Digital content manager

Results from a recent study suggest that among the many benefits of oral care, the simple act of toothbrushing reduces rates of pneumonia for hospitalized patients and may ultimately save lives.

JAMA Internal Medicine published findings of a systematic review and meta-analysis of 15 randomized clinical trials by Boston-based Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. The data included results from more than 2,700 patients and found that hospital-acquired pneumonia rates were lower among patients randomized to daily toothbrushing, particularly among those on mechanical ventilation.

Hospital-acquired pneumonia (HAP)—pneumonia the patient didn’t have when admitted but picked up during their stay—is the most common and morbid health care–associated infection, occurring when bacteria in the mouth enter a patient’s airways and infect their lungs.

According to a press release from Brigham and Women’s, patients who are frailer or have a weakened immune system are particularly susceptible to developing HAP. Since toothbrushing daily reduces the amount of bacteria in the mouth, it potentially lowers the risk of HAP and ICU mortality as well as leads to fewer days of mechanical ventilation and a shorter length of stay in the ICU. 

 “The signal that we see here towards lower mortality is striking—it suggests that regular toothbrushing in the hospital may save lives,” said corresponding study author Michael Klompas, MD, MPH, in the press release. “It’s rare in the world of hospital preventative medicine to find something like this that is both effective and cheap. Instead of a new device or drug, our study indicates that something as simple as brushing teeth can make a big difference.” 

As such, the study authors say the findings open up a hopeful possibility on for simple, inexpensive way to reduce morbidity rates for hospitalized patients that they hope will “catalyze policies and programs to assure that hospitalized patients regularly brush their teeth.”

"If a patient cannot perform the task themselves, we recommend a member of the patient’s care team assist,” said Klompas.  

About the Author

Elizabeth S. Leaver | Digital content manager

Elizabeth S. Leaver was the digital content manager for Endeavor Business Media's dental group from 2021-2024. She has a degree in journalism from Northeastern University in Boston and many years of experience working in niche industries specializing in creating content, editing, content marketing, and publishing digital and magazine content. She lives in the Boston area.