Among the many health benefits of getting your teeth regularly checked? Less pneumonia, suggests new research to be presented at IDWeek 2016, a scientific conference on infectious diseases held annually.

Researchers analyzed data taken from the 2013 version of the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, which asks households how often they access routine health care services. They found that people who reported seeing their dentists at least twice a year were noticeably less likely to come down with a case of bacterial pneumonia. After accounting for other factors, they estimated that dental visits were associated with a 86 percent lower risk of catching pneumonia.

“There is a well-documented connection between oral health and pneumonia, and dental visits are important in maintaining good oral health," explained lead author Dr. Michelle Doll, an assistant professor of internal medicine in the Division of Infectious Disease at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, in a statement. "We can never rid the mouth of bacteria altogether, but good oral hygiene can limit the quantities of bacteria present."

To be clear, the real risk of pneumonia was still small. Only 441 people out of the some 26,000 surveyed (1.68 percent) had pneumonia within the past year. That in turn makes the absolute benefit of dental visits as a pneumonia buster small too. And the study’s findings are preliminary, not having been published in a peer-reviewed journal yet.

All those caveats in mind, poor oral health has already been linked to a variety of other health problems, ranging from colon cancer to depression to cardiovascular disease. And as Doll noted, the bacterial imbalance that causes issues like tooth decay is known to be a harbinger of similar dysfunction throughout the body. In the case of pneumonia, many of the same bacterial species that cause it can be found in our mouth. Under the right — and unlucky— circumstances, Doll said, these bacteria can accidentally find their way into our lungs, causing inflammation. And while pneumonia isn't particularly dangerous for most of us, it does kill 50,000 Americans annually, mostly those older or with poorer immune systems.

Doll and her team believe that these findings only highlight how crucial dental care is to keeping ourselves as healthy as can be.

"Our study provides further evidence that oral health is linked to overall health, and suggests that it's important to incorporate dental care into routine preventive healthcare," she said.

Source: Doll M, Kelly K, Ratliff S, et al. Access to Dental Care and Risk of Pneumonia: the Importance of Healthy Teeth. IDWeek 2016 2016.