Oral health care in adult intensive care units: a national point prevalence study

Niamh Kelly, Bronagh Blackwood, Nicki Credland, Louise Stayt, Christine Causey, Lewis Winning, Daniel F. McAuley, Fionnuala T. Lundy, Ikhlas El Karim

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The importance of good oral hygiene for patients in Intensive Care Units (ICUs) is well recognized, however, the most effective way to achieve good oral care in the ICU is unclear.

This study aimed to provide a national picture of oral care practices in adult ICUs in the United Kingdom (UK) to identify areas for improvement.

Study Design
A national one-day point prevalence study was undertaken in adult ICUs in the UK in the period from 30th September to 14th October 2021. Data were collected on all patients in the ICU on the date of data collection. Using a validated electronic data collection form, anonymised data were collected on methods and frequency of oral care provided, and the use of oral care protocols within the ICU. Data were analysed using descriptive analysis.

Data from 195 patients in 15 ICUs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland were collected. Written oral care protocols were available for use in the care of 65% (n = 127) of patients. 73% (n = 142) of patients received oral care within the 24-h period. Oral care methods included toothbrushing 41% (n = 79), foam sticks 3% (n = 5), moisturizing the oral cavity 10% (n = 19) and mouth rinse with chlorhexidine 3% (n = 5) and other oral care methods not specified 12% (n = 23). 44% (n = 85) of patients had an oral assessment within the 24-h period and variable assessment methods were used.

There is large variability in oral care provision and methods for intubated ICU patients and a lack of consensus was revealed in the study. Oral assessment is conducted less frequently using multiple tools. Optimal oral care standards and further research into oral care provision is pivotal to address this important patient-relevant practice.

Relevance to Clinical Practice
Oral care is a fundamental part of care for ICU patients, however, there is a large degree of variability, and oral care is often not based upon oral assessment. The use of an oral care protocol and oral assessments would help to improve patient care, ease of use for staff and provide a tailored oral care plan for patients, improving efficiency and preventing wasted resources.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages8
JournalNursing in Critical Care
Early online date01 May 2023
Publication statusEarly online date - 01 May 2023


  • chlorhexidine
  • critical care nursing
  • nosocomial pneumonia
  • oral bacteria
  • oral health
  • ventilator associated pneumonia


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