03/26/07

Patients admitted to a hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU) already are seriously ill, so the last thing they need is a new infection. Unfortunately, statistics show that as many as 25% of all patients admitted to the ICU and placed on ventilators develop pneumonia, which can be fatal.

Ventilator-associated pneumonia is a major cause of infection in the hospital, and studies have shown that this infection can add $40,000 to costs and double the length of stay of the patient in the hospital.

Ironically, it turns out that the patient’s own dental plaque is a major source of germs that cause ventilator-associated pneumonia.

In results to be presented last week at the International Association of Dental Research (IADR), researchers from the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine showed that the same bacteria identified in dental plaque of patients when they were admitted to the ICU and placed on ventilators were found later in the lungs of those who subsequently developed pneumonia.

“Our study shows that a strong relationship exists between oral and respiratory pathogens in patients with ventilator-associated pneumonia,” said Paul Heo, DDS, a doctoral student in the University of Buffalo  dental school’s department of oral biology and first author on the study. “We are saying that if the patients’ mouths and teeth aren’t cleaned while they are in the hospital, they may easily develop lung disease.”