Why Don’t We Pay Attention to Oral Care in the ICU?

By Maureen Shawn Kennedy, MA, RN, AJN editor-in-chief

“Although meticulous oral care has been shown to reduce the risk of ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP), oral care practices among critical care nurses remain inconsistent, with mouth care often perceived as a comfort measure rather than as a critical component of infection control.”

scanning electron micrograph of Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria, one several types that can cause VAP/CDC

Scanning electron micrograph of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, one of several bacteria types that can cause VAP/ CDC image

So begins one of our CE feature articles in the current issue of AJN. In “Mouth Care to Reduce Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia” (which you can read for free), the authors discuss why mouth care is so important among the interventions to reduce VAP—and why it is often not given a high priority among patient care procedures.

I have to confess that in my clinical days, mouth care was done almost as an afterthought. In our critical care unit, we were always diligent in monitoring vitals signs and IV fluids, suctioning, turning and positioning the patient, but oral care usually was a perfunctory task, completed with a few quick swipes with lemon-glycerine swabs.

Booker and colleagues explain why oral care deserves the careful attention we give to other measures. They also review the research on barriers to our providing this care. Many nurses are simply unaware of the connection between oral flora and subsequent development of VAP or the importance of addressing oral hygiene in the first few days after admission. This article is an eye-opener.

In addition, the authors include an evidence-based, step-by-step guide to providing oral care for intubated patients.

You might also consider listening to a podcast interview with the lead author, Staja Booker, who explains how she became interested in oral care and how this article developed from a student project. (Click here and then scroll down to the link to her podcast.)

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Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.


  1. Megan RN, BSN October 16, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    I am an ICU nurse and my unit has been VAP free for over four years because of meticulous oral care. Can’t wait to read this article!

  2. Catherine Alyce Cantrell October 16, 2013 at 10:49 am

    Reblogged this on Catherine Alyce in PhD Land.

Comments are moderated before approval, but always welcome.

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