A Simple Solution to Pneumonia: Brushing Teeth

Hospital-acquired pneumonia has a higher mortality rate than any other hospital-acquired infection (American Thoracic Society Top 20 Pneumonia Facts—2018). Patients are already immunocompromised, and being on a ventilator heightens risks for serious pneumonia. “Why?” Because of plaque on the teeth. 


When there is a lot of plaque on a patient’s teeth, it contributes in producing bacteria. That same bacteria travels down the throat and into the lungs, causing a pneumonia infection. Ventilator-associated pneumonia is more likely to be caused by antibiotic-resistant microbes and can require the highest antibiotic use in the critically ill population. Pneumonia is a huge burden on the US healthcare systems. In the US, pneumonia was one of the top ten most expensive conditions seen during inpatient hospitalizations. In 2013, pneumonia had an aggregate cost of nearly $9.5 billion for 960,000 hospital stays (American Thoracic Society Top 20 Pneumonia Facts—2018). 


According to a recent article on Fierce Healthcare, a Virginia VA hospital is taking on pneumonia, one toothbrush at a time. The article states, “Beginning in late 2016, nurses at the Salem Veterans Affairs Medical Center Community Living Centers began ensuring patients brushed their teeth twice a day. 

Since then, the number of non-ventilator cases of hospital-acquired pneumonia have decreased by 90%.” Furthermore, they have spread the toothbrushing practice to other hospitals, preventing 117 cases of pneumonia and saving an estimated 21 lives, reducing costs by $4.69 million. These results are staggering- all from brushing patients’ teeth twice a day.


The TeleDentists has established a program based on these results and studies to help continue the fight against hospital acquired pneumonia. The TeleDentists offers a toothbrushing program that can be implemented through hospital administrations, including a QR code on patients’ toothbrushes that can be scanned in order to document oral health practices. This will allow the hospital staff to improve patient care, document twice-a-day toothbrushing, and reducing oral bacteria. Not only will the hospital be able to continue life saving practices, but they will also be saving millions of dollars in the end. 


“Toothbrushing is saving lives,” said Shannon Munro, Ph.D., a nurse researcher at the hospital speaking at the Veterans Health Administration’s Innovation Experience event in Washington, D.C. Developing Project HAPPEN was a collaborative effort between nurses, infection control experts, physicians and dental professionals, Munro said. “It’s very important to use and our nursing staff have taken on this challenge to help our patients.” According to the article, the hospitals that implemented the program see pneumonia rates decreasing by at least 40%. Most recoup the cost for oral care items within three months, as it costs an average of $40,000 to treat one case of pneumonia. A valuable program, monetarily and morally.



By Leah Sigler, RDH

Director of Operations

The TeleDentists


1 | https://www.wsj.com/articles/in-hospitals-pneumonia-is-a-lethal-enemy-1518868800


2 | https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/hospitals-health-systems/salem-va-medical-center-innovation-veterans-affairs-nursing-pneumonia


3 | https://www.thoracic.org/patients/patient-resources/resources/top-pneumonia-facts.pdf