Survey of oral care practices in US intensive care units

Am J Infect Control. 2004 May;32(3):161-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ajic.2003.05.001.


Background: Research has shown that oral care involving toothbrushes and topical antimicrobials improves the oral health of medically compromised patients and may reduce the incidence of nosocomial infections including pneumonia. This survey research was undertaken to determine the type and frequency of oral care in intensive care units (ICUs) in the United States and the attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge of health care workers.

Methods: A randomly selected survey of 102 ICUs within the continental United States participated with 556 respondents; 97% of respondents were registered nurses.

Measurements: Frequency and type of oral care provided, attitudes and beliefs, and knowledge and training in oral care were measured.

Results: Ninety-two percent of respondents perceived oral care to be a high priority. The primary methods of oral care involved the use of foam swabs, moisturizers, and mouthwash. Toothbrushes and toothpaste were used infrequently by almost 80% of respondents. The majority of nurses indicated a need for research-proven oral care standards and desired to learn more.

Conclusions: In this random sample of ICUs, oral care methods were not consistent with current research and oral care protocols. The translation of oral care research into practice in the ICU may improve the quality of care and decrease the incidence of ventilator-associated pneumonia.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Critical Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Cross Infection / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Infection Control / methods*
  • Infection Control / standards
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Oral Hygiene / statistics & numerical data*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States / epidemiology