Bacterial pneumonia is a prevalent and costly infection that is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in patients of all ages. The continuing emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria (e.g., penicillin-resistant pneumococci) suggests that bacterial pneumonia will assume increasing importance in the coming years. Thus, knowledge of the pathogenesis of, and risk factors for, bacterial pneumonia is critical to the development of strategies for prevention and treatment of these infections. Bacterial pneumonia in adults is the result of aspiration of oropharyngeal flora into the lower respiratory tract and failure of host defense mechanisms to eliminate the contaminating bacteria, which multiply in the lung and cause infection. It is recognized that community-acquired pneumonia and lung abscesses can be the result of infection by anaerobic bacteria; dental plaque would seem to be a logical source of these bacteria, especially in patients with periodontal disease. It is also possible that patients with high risk for pneumonia, such as hospitalized patients and nursing home residents, are likely to pay less attention to personal hygiene than healthy patients. One important dimension of this personal neglect may be diminished attention to oral hygiene. Poor oral hygiene and periodontal disease may promote oropharyngeal colonization by potential respiratory pathogens (PRPs) including Enterobacteriaceae (Klebsiella pneumoniae, Escherichia coli, Enterobacter species, etc.), Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Staphylococcus aureus. This paper provides the rationale for the development of this hypothesis especially as it pertains to mechanically ventilated intensive care unit patients and nursing home residents, two patient groups with a high risk for bacterial pneumonia.