BACKGROUND: The link between oral bacteria and respiratory infections is well documented. Dental plaque has the potential to be colonized by respiratory pathogens and this, together with microaspiration of oral bacteria, can lead to pneumonia particularly in the elderly and critically ill. The provision of adequate oral care is therefore essential for the maintenance of good oral health and the prevention of respiratory complications.
MAIN BODY: Numerous oral care practices are utilised for intubated patients, with a clear lack of consensus on the best approach for oral care. This narrative review aims to explore the oral-lung connection and discuss in detail current oral care practices to identify shortcomings and offer suggestions for future research. The importance of adequate oral care has been recognised in guideline interventions for the prevention of pneumonia, but practices differ and controversy exists particularly regarding the use of chlorhexidine. The oral health assessment is also an important but often overlooked element of oral care that needs to be considered. Oral care plans should ideally be implemented on the basis of an individual oral health assessment. An oral health assessment prior to provision of oral care should identify patient needs and facilitate targeted oral care interventions.
CONCLUSION: Oral health is an important consideration in the management of the critically ill. Studies have suggested benefit in the reduction of respiratory complication such as Ventilator Associated Pneumonia associated with effective oral health care practices. However, at present there is no consensus as to the best way of providing optimal oral health care in the critically ill. Further research is needed to standardise oral health assessment and care practices to enable development of evidenced based personalised oral care for the critically ill.