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People of color, those with poor dental health more likely to develop deadly infection if placed on ventilator, report shows

Ventilator-associated pneumonia, or VAP, is the leading cause of death among the critically ill and disproportionately affects people of color, a recent study shows.

ARIZONA, USA — People with poor dental health and people of color are more likely to develop a deadly infection when placed on a ventilator, according to a recent report from the DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement.

The infection is called ventilator-associated pneumonia, or VAP, and is reportedly the leading cause of death among critically ill patients with hospital-acquired infections and disproportionately impacts people of color. VAP has been a serious problem for those on ventilators due to COVID-19. 

"There's good and bad bacteria that exists in the mouth and what happens when you get ventilated is they take the tube, the tube goes through your mouth, and picks up that bacteria," Dr. Sean Boynes, Vice President of Health Improvement at the DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement, said.

The results of the study found that one visit for preventive dental care within the past three years reduced the likelihood of being diagnosed with VAP by 22%. However, many people do not have the means to receive that kind of care.

The study states that people of color are disproportionately impacted by VAP for the following reasons:

  • Black people were 39% more likely than white people to be diagnosed with VAP when on ventilators for 48 hours or longer
  • Black adults are 68% more likely to have unmet dental needs than white adults
  • Latino adults are 52% more likely to report having difficulty performing at work due to poor oral health than white adults
  • Americans as a whole are 2.5 times more likely to have unmet dental needs due to lacking insurance

"In Arizona, 33% of the population is Hispanic and Hispanic people are 44% of COVID-19 cases," Dr. Boynes said. "We're dealing with...institutional  issues of racism, stereotypes, and limited access to health care when you're talking about communities in which the majority of members are persons of color."

The data for the study was collected before the pandemic, but the World Health Organization recently determined that VAP is a grave concern to justify issuing guidance

You can read the entire report here