Background: Intensive oral care can reduce the incidence of pneumonia in elderly nursing home patients, but the mechanism is unknown. Objective: To explore the effects of intensive oral care on impaired cough reflex sensitivity, which is a known risk factor of aspiration pneumonia. Methods: Cough reflex sensitivity to citric acid was measured in elderly nursing home patients, who were randomly assigned to the intervention group (n = 30) and the control group (n = 29). The patients in the intervention group had their teeth and gingiva cleaned by caregivers after every meal for 1 month. The patients in the control group performed their own oral care during the same period. Serum substance P (SP) concentration, cognitive function, and activities of daily living (ADL) were also assessed. Results: In the intervention group, cough reflex sensitivity at 30 days showed significantly higher sensitivity than baseline (p < 0.01). At 30 days, the cough reflex sensitivities in the intervention group were significantly higher than that of the control group (p < 0.05). Compared with the control group, the odds ratio of improvement of cough reflex sensitivity was 5.3 (95% confidence interval, 1.7 to 16.0; p < 0.005) for the intervention group. One month of intensive oral care did not have a significant effect on serum SP concentration, cognitive function, and ADL. Conclusion: Intensive oral care may reduce the incidence of pneumonia by improving cough reflex sensitivity in elderly nursing home patients.
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