Oral health care and aspiration pneumonia in frail older people: a systematic literature review

Gerodontology. 2013 Mar;30(1):3-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-2358.2012.00637.x. Epub 2012 Mar 6.


Objective: To systematically review the literature on oral health care interventions in frail older people and the effect on the incidence of aspiration pneumonia.

Background: Oral health care seems to play an important role in the prevention of aspiration pneumonia in frail older people.

Methods: Pubmed, Web of Science, Cochrane Library, EMBASE and CINAHL were searched for eligible intervention studies. Only publications with regard to hospitalized or institutionalized older people, who were not dependent on mechanical ventilation were eligible. Two authors independently assessed the publications for their methodological quality.

Results: Five publications were included and reviewed. Two studies showed that improvement of oral health care diminished the risk of developing aspiration pneumonia and the risk of dying from aspiration pneumonia directly. The three studies remaining showed that adequate oral health care decreased the amount of potential respiratory pathogens and suggested a reduction in the risk of aspiration pneumonia by improving the swallowing reflex and cough reflex sensitivity.

Conclusions: According to the results of the current systematic literature review oral health care, consisting of tooth brushing after each meal, cleaning dentures once a day, and professional oral health care once a week, seems the best intervention to reduce the incidence of aspiration pneumonia.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cough / physiopathology
  • Deglutition / physiology
  • Dental Care*
  • Frail Elderly*
  • Humans
  • Oral Hygiene*
  • Pneumonia, Aspiration / prevention & control*
  • Reflex / physiology
  • Risk Factors