Regardless of the initial reason for hospitalization, infections are an alarmingly common part of a lengthy stay in the intensive care unit (ICU). Hospital-acquired infections can lengthen a hospital stay considerably, and lung infections are some of the most common infections in the ICU.
Researchers from Brazil recently completed a study to find out whether quality oral care can help reduce respiratory infections in ICU patients.
The control group received “routine oral hygiene,” which included the use of chlorhexidine-based mouth rinses. The experimental group received enhanced care from an oral surgeon 4-5 times per week, in addition to regular teeth brushing, tongue scraping, removal of calculus, treatment for caries, and tooth extraction as necessary.
Patients who received enhanced oral care were considerably less likely to develop lower respiratory tract infections than those who only received basic oral care—only 8% developed respiratory infections compared to over 18% in the control group. Interestingly, those who received better oral care also had lower incidence of ventilator-associated pneumonia.
All in all, it seems that enhanced oral care reduces the chances of patients developing lower respiratory tract infections—not altogether surprising, given what we know about the ability of oral pathogens to aspirate into the lungs and cause infection.
This translates to fewer complications, shorter hospital stays, and reduced healthcare costs. Oral biofilm impacts many diseases for which people are hospitalized, so it is essential that oral health become a priority in hospitals, particularly in the intensive care unit.