Brushing your teeth properly could prevent more than just gum disease - it could also cut the risk of pneumonia, new research has found.
Scientists at the Yale University School of Medicine discovered that changes in mouth bacteria preceded the development of pneumonia in hospital patients.
The study suggests that thousands of elderly people who are at risk of the lung disease could increase their chances of developing the condition if they do not take proper care of their teeth.
Lead author Dr Samit Joshi told ELS Global Medical News: "Our findings may improve the way we prevent pneumonia in the future by maintaining the bacteria which live within our mouths."
The research team followed 37 patients over the course of a month and found those on ventilators who developed pneumonia had experienced a significant shift in the "bacterial composition" in their mouths beforehand.
In response to the link between bacteria in the mouth and the respiratory infection the British Dental Health Foundation has warned that poor oral hygiene could cause pneumonia.
Nigel Carter, chief executive of the Dental Foundation said: “During the winter months we’re all susceptible to colds, coughs and chesty viruses due to the drop in temperature.
"What people must remember, particularly those highlighted as vulnerable, is that prevention can be very basic. Systemic links between gum disease and overall health have been well documented, and at this time of year keeping up good oral health can really help stave off illness."
He added: "Simply brushing your teeth for two minutes twice a day using a fluoride toothpaste, cleaning in between teeth daily with interdental brushes or floss, cutting down on how often you have sugary foods and drinks and visiting the dentist regularly, as often as they recommend will be a great starting point.
"If you have swollen gums that bleed regularly when brushing, bad breath, loose teeth or regular mouth infections appear, it is likely you have gum disease.
"If any of these symptoms persist, or signs of pneumonia develop, visit your dentist and GP immediately."
Dr Johsi's research was presented at the Infectious Diseases Society of America annual meeting in Boston.
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