Critically ill people who need machines to help them breathe are at high risk for developing chest infections and pneumonia. This is known as ventilator-associated pneumonia, or VAP. Can a programme of oral care (such as mouthwashes, toothbrushing) help to prevent this life-threatening condition?
What was the research?
A systematic review of the evidence to find out whether oral health care can reduce the likelihood of a patient in intensive care on a ventilator developing pneumonia.
Who conducted the research?
The research was conducted by a team led by Zongdao Shi on behalf of the Cochrane Oral Health Group. Huixu Xie, Ping Wang, Qi Zhang, Yan Wu, E Chen, Linda Ng, Helen V Worthington, Ian Needleman and Susan Furness were also on the team.
What evidence was included in the review?
Data was extracted from 35 randomised controlled trials. A total of 5,374 patients participated in the trials. The trials looked at:
- Chlorhexidine antiseptic mouthrinse or gel compared with a placebo or usual care.
- Toothbrushing compared with no toothbrushing
- Powered compared with manual toothbrushing
- Oral care with other solutions.
Participants were all critically ill and needed assistance from hospital staff, who administered the oral care.
What did the evidence say?
The review found that chlorhexidine administered as a mouthrinse or gel reduces the odds of VAP by 40%. For every 15 people in hospital in intensive care, use of oral hygiene including chlorhexidine will prevent one person developing VAP. There was no evidence that chlorhexidine makes a difference to the numbers of patients who die in intensive care, or the length of their stay in the intensive care unit. There was no evidence that toothbrushing or oral care without toothbrushing affected the risk of developing VAP. Two studies showed some evidence of a reduction in VAP with povidine iodine antiseptic mouthrinse. There was not enough evidence of the effects of other oral care solutions, such as water, saline or triclosan.
How good was the evidence?
Only 14% of the studies included in this review were well conducted and described. Almost half of the included studies were at high risk of bias.
What are the implications for intensive care staff and the general public?
Effective oral hygiene care is important for ventilated patients in intensive care to reduce ventilator-associated pneumonia. There is evidence from this review that oral hygiene care incorporating chlorhexidine mouthrinse or gel is effective in reducing the development of ventilator-associated pneumonia in adult patients in intensive care. The definition of oral hygiene care varied among the studies included in this review but common elements include cleaning of the teeth and gums with a swab or gauze, removing secretions using suction and rinsing the mouth.
What should researchers look at in the future?
Although the included studies provided some evidence of the benefits of oral hygiene care for critically ill patients to prevent ventilator-associated pneumonia, incomplete reporting of studies is a major limitation. Further trials of oral hygiene care (including use of manual or powered toothbrushes, or swabs) should report both measures of effectiveness of plaque removal and prevention of ventilator-associated pneumonia.
Shi Z, Xie H, Wang P, Zhang Q, Wu Y, Chen E, Ng L, Worthington HV, Needleman I, Furness S. Oral hygiene care for critically ill patients to prevent ventilator-associated pneumonia. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 8. Art. No.: CD008367. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD008367.pub2.