How effective are oral hygiene measures for preventing pneumonia in critically ill people on ventilators?

Ventilator‐associated pneumonia (VAP) is a lung infection. It develops in patients who are on artificial breathing machines (ventilators) in hospitals for more than 48 hours. Often, these patients are very ill – they may have had a heart attack or stroke, a serious accident, or major surgery. They may be unable to breathe on their own because they are unconscious or sedated while they receive treatment. Ventilators supply patients with oxygen through a tube placed in the mouth or nose, or through a hole in the front of the neck. If germs enter through the tube and get into the patient’s lungs, this can lead to VAP. VAP is a potentially very serious complication in patients who are already very ill. It can cause worsening health and increases patients’ risk of dying.

Keeping a patient’s mouth clean and free of disease could help to prevent VAP. Oral hygiene care includes mouthwash, antiseptics, using swabs to clean the mouth, toothbrushing and tools like suction devices, which suck away fluid from the mouth. These measures can be used on their own or combined.

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