Your uncleaned dentures can lead to pneumonia, finds study. Read how

Recent research has revealed a connection between dirty dentures and the risk of pneumonia. Indian doctors agree, and warn on oral hygiene.

ByChetana Belagere

Published Jun 27, 2023 | 9:00 AMUpdated Jun 27, 2023 | 9:00 AM

Your uncleaned dentures can lead to pneumonia, finds study. Read how

Did you know that dentures — those seemingly harmless dental appliances used by many — can lead to pneumonia if not cleaned?

Recent research conducted by British scientists has uncovered links between unclean dentures and harmful germs known to cause pneumonia.

Dentists whom South First spoke to agreed with the findings, and said that it was not just pneumonia: Various other bacterial infections could arise from the use of unclean dentures.

Dr Ashwin D, a pedodontist from Kasargod in Kerala, told South First: “Any type of denture, if not kept clean, is a site for bacterial growth. The oral cavity is a place where you find the maximum types of microorganisms in the human body.”

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What did the study find?

While bacterial pneumonia is a common cause of morbidity and mortality in elderly individuals, the researchers from the UK conducted an analytical cross-sectional study to find whether denture surfaces provide an environment where harmful bacteria associated with respiratory infections can thrive, thereby increasing the risk of pneumonia in susceptible individuals.

The researchers included two groups in the study. One was frail, elderly individuals without any respiratory infections, and the second was hospitalised patients who had been diagnosed with pneumonia.

Representative pic of a old woman showing her denture.

An old woman showing her denture. Research showed that elderly with dentures are more prone to pneumonia. (Wikimedia Commons)

Using advanced techniques called 16S rRNA meta-taxonomic sequencing and quantitative PCR, the scientists analysed the bacterial communities present on the dentures.

Quantitative PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, is a well-established method to detect and quantify different types of microbial agents.

They specifically focused on identifying putative respiratory pathogens, including Streptococcus pneumoniae — a bacterium commonly associated with pneumonia.

Alarming findings

The findings were alarming. The researchers observed a statistically significant increase in the overall abundance of these harmful bacteria on dentures, exceeding 20 times the bioburden found in the control group without respiratory infections.

They also noted changes in the diversity and richness of the bacterial communities present on dentures between pneumonia patients and the control subjects.

While dentures have long been considered a reliable solution for missing teeth, this research highlights the need for a closer examination of their impact on overall health.

Dr Joshua A Twigg, lead researcher from the School of Dentistry of Cardiff University in Wales in the UK, stressed the significance of this research and its implications for denture wearers.

He said, “Our study has revealed the presence of potentially harmful microbial communities on dentures. It is crucial to clean dentures thoroughly to minimise the risk. Additionally, regular dental visits can help individuals avoid the need for dentures altogether.”

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Doctors advise strict oral hygiene

According to Dr Ashwin PS, a periodontist and education consultant at Curaden India, there have been numerous discussions and studies on the topic of oral bacteria and their potential to spread to different parts of the body, including the lungs, heart, and brain tissues.

“This dissemination of oral bacteria is believed to be a contributing factor to hospital-associated pneumonia, particularly in elderly patients who are on ventilators or similar medical devices,” he noted.

Representation picAshwin said poor oral hygiene could exacerbate this issue, as bacteria associated with periodontitis or severe gum disease have been found in lung tissues, leading to pneumonia acquired in healthcare settings.

He explains that additionally, studies suggest a link between oral health and diabetes.

The same bacteria present in the oral cavity can also be found in heart valves and cardiac tissues.

While there is a clear connection between oral health and overall well-being, studies demonstrate associations rather than direct causation.

Ashwin emphasised the importance of good oral hygiene, particularly in relation to denture wearers, as dentures could harbour bacteria that could easily migrate to lung tissues due to the proximity of the oral cavity and the windpipe.

It is essential to properly clean dentures to minimise the risk of pneumonia.

Additionally, bacteria can potentially spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream, resulting in metastasis.

Overall, maintaining good oral hygiene is crucial, as it plays a role in preventing various health issues, although these diseases are often caused by multiple factors rather than a single cause.

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Study is limited, but not hygiene

Doctors told South First that it was important to note the limitations of the study.

Dr Kiran Kumar N, a professor and head of the Department of Conservative Dentistry and Endodontics at the Government Dental College in Bengaluru, said: “Amongst elderly, the immunity level also comes down and hence body’s resistance to bacterial infections are also very low. That could also be one of the factors.”

However, it must be noted that the oral cavity has the maximum number of microorganisms, and applied to all ages.

Hence, maintaining oral hygiene was extremely important, said Kiran.

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Tips for denture care

Ashwin told South First that oral hygiene was an absolute must.

Hence, whenever dentists gave dentures to their patients, irrespective of age, they told them to have a certain routine to keep dentures clean and minimise the risk of bacterial colonisation.

These include:

  1. Remove and rinse dentures after meals to remove food particles and prevent plaque buildup.
  2. Brush dentures daily using a soft-bristle brush and mild denture cleaner.
  3. Soak dentures overnight in a denture cleanser solution or water to keep them moist and clean.
  4. Rinse dentures thoroughly before putting them back in the mouth.

Kiran added that regular dental check-ups were crucial to assessing the fit and condition of dentures and addressing any oral health concerns.

He said dentists suggest changing dentures every five years.