Failure to see the dentist regularly can nearly double the risk that even a healthy person will get pneumonia, a US analysis of 26,000 people finds. The research coincides with an Australian conference this weekend trying to unite dentists and other health professionals to put "the mouth back into health". "For too long, oral health has been considered separate from general health," Martin Hall, the head of the North Richmond Community Health in Victoria, said. Poor oral health can disrupt speech, sleep and productivity, undermine heart health and even wipe out the benefits of exercise, according to research over the past decade. US research analysed data from 26,246 people showing their healthcare utilisation, including dental care. It found 1.68 per cent of them had suffered from pneumonia. Those who didn't have regular check-ups had an 86 per cent increased risk of pneumonia compared with those who had twice-yearly appointments. The lead author of the study Michelle Doll said bacteria that caused pneumonia, including streptococcus and staphylococcus, could be accidentally inhaled or aspirated into the lungs and cause pneumonia. This connection was well documented, she said, and routine dental visits could reduce the amount of bacteria that could be aspirated. "We can never rid the mouth of bacteria altogether, but good oral hygiene can limit the quantities of bacteria present," said Dr Doll, from the division of infectious disease at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond. "Our study provides further evidence that oral health is linked to overall health, and suggests it's important to incorporate dental care into routine preventive healthcare," she said. Australian dentist and public health expert Matthew Hopcraft says poor oral health is a big problem in nursing homes increasing the risk of pneumonia. Many older people, particularly those with dementia, are unable to clean their teeth. "They have poor oral health and plaque builds up and they end up aspirating that plaque," he said. The extensive links between oral health and general health weren't fully understood by the general public or other health professionals, he said. Part of the problem was that dentists were trained differently from other health professionals. "About 85 per cent of dentists work in the private sector, and don't interact with other health professionals," said Professor Hopcraft, a dentist and a clinical associate professor in public health at the University of Melbourne. By contrast, nearly all doctors worked in a hospital with other health professionals at some time in their careers. The challenge was how to strengthen the links between the different health professions and improve pathways for patients. "So when a patient is diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, for instance, someone [such as a doctor or pharmacist] will say you are at increased risk of gum disease." A keynote speaker at the Melbourne conference was Professor Jorg Eberhard, a German academic who had studied the link between oral health and systemic disease. Earlier this year, he was appointed inaugural chair of Lifespan Oral Health at Sydney University, to oversee the development of an oral health research centre. Expected to become a $20 million research facility over time, it will be the first in the world to investigate all aspects of preventable dental disease and the links to whole-of-body health.