Effect of oral chlorhexidine de-adoption and implementation of an oral care bundle on mortality for mechanically ventilated patients in the intensive care unit (CHORAL): a multi-center stepped wedge cluster-randomized controlled trial

Intensive Care Med. 2021 Nov;47(11):1295-1302. doi: 10.1007/s00134-021-06475-2. Epub 2021 Oct 5.


Purpose: Oral chlorhexidine is used widely for mechanically ventilated patients to prevent pneumonia, but recent studies show an association with excess mortality. We examined whether de-adoption of chlorhexidine and parallel implementation of a standardized oral care bundle reduces intensive care unit (ICU) mortality in mechanically ventilated patients.

Methods: A stepped wedge cluster-randomized controlled trial with concurrent process evaluation in 6 ICUs in Toronto, Canada. Clusters were randomized to de-adopt chlorhexidine and implement a standardized oral care bundle at 2-month intervals. The primary outcome was ICU mortality. Secondary outcomes were time to infection-related ventilator-associated complications (IVACs), oral procedural pain and oral health dysfunction. An exploratory post hoc analysis examined time to extubation in survivors.

Results: A total of 3260 patients were enrolled; 1560 control, 1700 intervention. ICU mortality for the intervention and control periods were 399 (23.5%) and 330 (21.2%), respectively (adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 1.13; 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.82 to 1.54; P = 0.46). Time to IVACs (adjusted hazard ratio [aHR], 1.06; 95% CI 0.44 to 2.57; P = 0.90), time to extubation (aHR 1.03; 95% CI 0.85 to 1.23; P = 0.79) (survivors) and oral procedural pain (aOR, 0.62; 95% CI 0.34 to 1.10; P = 0.10) were similar between control and intervention periods. However, oral health dysfunction scores (- 0.96; 95% CI - 1.75 to - 0.17; P = 0.02) improved in the intervention period.

Conclusion: Among mechanically ventilated ICU patients, no benefit was observed for de-adoption of chlorhexidine and implementation of an oral care bundle on ICU mortality, IVACs, oral procedural pain, or time to extubation. The intervention may improve oral health.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT03382730.

Keywords: Chlorhexidine; Critical care; De-adoption; Oral health; Randomized controlled trial; Respiration, artificial.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Chlorhexidine
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Patient Care Bundles*
  • Pneumonia, Ventilator-Associated* / prevention & control
  • Respiration, Artificial


  • Chlorhexidine

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT03382730