June 25, 2021

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Preventive Dental Care Significantly Reduces Risk of Serious Illness for Patients on Mechanical Ventilators

Preventive dental visits reduce risk of ventilator-associated pneumonia, which poses a serious problem for those afflicted with COVID-19 and reliant on mechanical ventilation

Boston, MA, Sept. 28, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — The DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement, today released a report that reinforces the connection between oral health and overall health, and underscores the breadth of health issues that ongoing, preventive oral health care can protect against. 

Among the key findings in the report, The Link Between Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia and the Mouth, is that at least one preventive dental visit within three years of a patient being placed on a mechanical ventilator reduced the likelihood of a ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP) diagnosis by 22%.

VAP is a leading cause of death among critically ill patients and has posed a serious problem for those afflicted with COVID-19 who require mechanical ventilation. The report also found that, among patients on mechanical ventilators for 48 hours or longer, Black people were 39% more likely than white people to be diagnosed with VAP. 

“This study adds to what we already know, that health starts in the mouth, and without access to necessary preventive oral health care, millions of Americans are at increased risk of poor health outcomes due to unidentified and untreated dental disease,” said Dr. Myechia Minter-Jordan, president and CEO of the DentaQuest Partnership and Catalyst Institute, Inc.

Motivated by the increase in utilization of mechanical ventilation as a treatment for those suffering from COVID-19, the DentaQuest Partnership conducted this study to examine the relationship between preventive dental care and the occurrence of VAP.

VAP is a serious illness frequently caused by bacteria that grows in the mouth and travels to the lungs, which happens because the ventilator blocks normal protection mechanisms within the mouth and throat. While the data for this study is from before the pandemic, the World Health Organization has found VAP to be a serious enough concern that it has issued guidance regarding how providers can reduce the occurrence of VAP among COVID-19 patients.

The study makes clear that entering the hospital with a healthy mouth makes an individual less likely to develop VAP. To help more people have healthy mouths, the study authors call for community-based and hospital-based interventions including effective oral health education and access to preventive oral care in the community, as well as the development of standardized inpatient oral care protocols across health settings.

“The important findings in this new report also reinforce the immediate need for states to include a comprehensive adult dental benefit in their Medicaid plans,” Dr. Minter-Jordan said, adding “It’s a matter of life and death.”

Earlier DentaQuest Partnership research showed that significant oral health disparities make lower-income Americans who rely on Medicaid more likely to have unmet dental needs.

That data indicates:

  • Black adults are 68% more likely to have an unmet dental need than white adults.

  • Latino adults are 52% more likely than white adults to report having difficulty performing at work due to poor oral health.

  • Nearly 4 in 10 Black and Latino adults reside in the 14 states where Medicaid’s adult dental benefits cover no dental services or emergency-only dental care.

  • Americans in poverty are 2.5 times more likely to have an unmet dental need due to lack of insurance. 

The DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement is a nonprofit organization working to transform the broken health care system and enable better health through oral health. Through strategic grantmaking, research and care improvement initiatives, we drive meaningful change at the local, state and national levels. The DentaQuest Partnership is affiliated with DentaQuest, a leading U.S. oral health enterprise with a mission to improve the oral health of all. Find out more at www.dentaquestpartnership.org.

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CONTACT: Thomas O'Rourke Head of Corporate Communications 978.992.1750 [email protected]

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