Could you be giving yourself pneumonia because of some innocent thing that you do each and every night? A new study from Japan says that’s exactly what may be happening to denture wearers around the globe. Here’s what everyone who wears dentures needs to know…


The Japanese study included 524 men and women who ranged in age from 85 to 102. At the beginning of the study, each participant had a dental exam and a face-to-face interview to answer questions about his or her general and oral health. The participants who wore dentures were also asked questions such as how and how often they cleaned their dentures. And they were asked if they wore their dentures to bed.

Over the course of the next three years, 20 of the participants died of pneumonia. Another 28 were hospitalized with pneumonia but eventually recovered. When the researchers analyzed the data, they found that factors associated with increased risk of pneumonia included difficulty swallowing, cognitive impairment and whether the person had ever had a stroke or a serious or chronic respiratory disease…and whether he or she wore dentures to bed.

Sleeping with dentures was the only risk factor directly related to behavior. In fact, people who wore dentures to bed had double the risk of pneumonia of those who removed their dentures at night.

People who slept wearing dentures also tended clean their dentures less frequently. As you can guess, bacteria can easily congregate on dentures. When it does, a bacterial film forms—similar to the layer of soap scum that accumulates in a bathtub that doesn’t get cleaned. Eventually, the bacteria find their way from a person’s mouth to the throat. From there, the organisms can be inhaled (aspirated) into the lungs—and this is what the researchers think is happening among people who sleep wearing dentures. Bacteria inhaled in this way can result in aspiration pneumonia, pneumonia caused by breathing in particles of any type that enter the throat. Older people are much more vulnerable to aspiration pneumonia because their immune systems aren’t as strong as those of younger people.


But is the problem wearing dentures to sleep or wearing dirty dentures to sleep? Some American dentists think that sleep-time denture-wearing helps prevent sleep apnea because it helps keep the airways open. Rather than dentures, though, the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine recommends that people with sleep apnea be fitted for an oral appliance specifically made to be worn at night and designed to prevent sleep apnea. You can find dentists certified in dental sleep medicine in your area through the Academy.

If you wear dentures (full or partial) or know someone who does and are concerned about health risks of sleeping with dentures—or health risks of sleeping without them—talk to your dentist. Most importantly, especially if you choose not to remove them while sleeping, make sure to keep them clean, as suggested in the Japanese study, by washing them daily in peroxide-based cleaner, such as Polident.