Brushing Teeth in Hospitalized Patients May Reduce Risk of Pneumonia Interview with:

Michael Klompas MD, MPH, FIDSA, FSHEAHospital Epidemiologist Brigham and Women’s Hospital Professor of Medicine and Population Medicine Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute  

Dr. Klompas

Michael Klompas MD, MPH, FIDSA, FSHEA
Hospital Epidemiologist
Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Professor of Medicine and Population Medicine
Harvard Medical School and
Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute What is the background for this study? Can teeth be safely brush in patients who are comatose, intubated or have NG tubes?

Response: Pneumonia is thought to occur when secretions from the mouth get into the lungs.  Since there are many microbes in the mouth, there’s a risk that secretions from the mouth that get into the lungs will lead to pneumonia.  Toothbrushing may lower this risk by decreasing the quantity of microbes in the mouth.

It is indeed safe and appropriate to brush the teeth of someone who is comatose, intubated, or who has an NG tube.  Indeed, our study found that the benefits of toothbrushing were clearest for patients receiving mechanical ventilation.

Response:  What are the main findings?

Response:  We found that regular toothbrushing in hospitalized patients decreases their risk of developing pneumonia, and for patients on ventilators, decreases the amount of time they spend on a ventilator, decreases the amount of time they spend in the intensive care unit, and lowers their risk of dying. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Our study reaffirms the importance of toothbrushing for both oral health and general health.  Patients are advised to remember to continue to brush their teeth when they get hospitalized in order to protect themselves from pneumonia, to hasten their recovery from illness, and lower their changes of dying in hospital. What recommendations do you have for future research as a results of this study?

Response: The majority of the evidence we found focused on mechanically ventilated patients.  there was less data available on the potential benefits of toothbrushing for non-ventilated patients outside the ICU.  We hope that future studies will gather further data on the impacts of toothbrushing in these populations.


Ehrenzeller SKlompas M. Association Between Daily Toothbrushing and Hospital-Acquired PneumoniaA Systematic Review and Meta-AnalysisJAMA Intern Med. Published online December 18, 2023. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2023.6638

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Last Updated on December 18, 2023 by Marie Benz MD FAAD