A person’s mouth can determine a lot about their overall health.
Research shows a recent spike in non-ventilator hospital-acquired pneumonia cases, known as NV-HAP, is linked to poor oral hygiene.
The data suggests patients either aren't being given the tools to brush their teeth themselves or hospital staff isn't doing it for them.
That can lead bacteria from the mouth to seep into the lungs, causing pneumonia.
The National Organization for NV-HAP Prevention estimates pneumonia kills 30% of infected patients.
The organization says for those who survive, their hospital stays are longer and more costly.
It's now pushing for a national reporting standard and a prevention protocol.
“It is a low-cost item. It needs to involve providing oral hygiene products, having them available and accessible to staff and patients in every hospital," said Judith Haber, executive director of Oral Health Nursing Education & Practice.
The VA health system is part of the movement. It has started implementing the practices in its hospitals.
Experts believe that could be used as a model for the entire healthcare system.
In the meantime, the organization says just knowing that a pneumonia infection is possible can go a long way.
“When you get to the hospital and are admitted, either you, your friend, your family member, whoever is your advocate, needs to request oral hygiene materials," Haber said.