The objective of this study was to investigate the preventive effect of oral hygiene on pneumonia and respiratory tract infection, focusing on elderly people in hospitals and nursing homes, by systematically reviewing effect estimates and methodological quality of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and to provide an overview of additional clinical studies in this area. Literature searches were conducted in the Medline database, the Cochrane library databases, and by hand-searching reference lists. Included publications were analyzed for intervention (or topic) studied, main conclusions, strength of evidence, and study design. RCTs were further analyzed for effect magnitudes and methodological details. Absolute risk reductions (ARRs) and numbers needed to treat (NNTs) were calculated. Fifteen publications fulfilled the inclusion criteria. There was a wide variation in the design and quality of the studies included. The RCTs revealed positive preventive effects of oral hygiene on pneumonia and respiratory tract infection in hospitalized elderly people and elderly nursing home residents, with ARRs from 6.6% to 11.7% and NNTs from 8.6 to 15.3 individuals. The non-RCT studies contributed to inconclusive evidence on the association and correlation between oral hygiene and pneumonia or respiratory tract infection in elderly people. Mechanical oral hygiene has a preventive effect on mortality from pneumonia, and non-fatal pneumonia in hospitalized elderly people and elderly nursing home residents. Approximately one in 10 cases of death from pneumonia in elderly nursing home residents may be prevented by improving oral hygiene. Future research in this area should be focused on high-quality RCTs with appropriate sample size calculations.