Objective To determine the effect of implementing a comprehensive oral and dental care system and protocol on the rate of ventilator-associated pneumonia.

Methods Patients more than 18 years old receiving mechanical ventilation for more than 48 hours in a medical intensive care unit at a university-affiliated medical center were studied in 2 consecutive 24-month periods. Patients in the group studied before the intervention (n = 779) had no oral assessments, no suctioning of the subglottic space, no toothbrushing, and suctioning of secretions in the oral cavity as needed. The group studied during the intervention (n = 759) included patients treated under a protocol whereby the oral cavity was assessed, deep suctioning was done every 6 hours, oral tissue cleansing was done every 4 hours or as needed, and toothbrushing was done twice daily.

Results Compliance with protocol components exceeded 80%. The groups did not differ significantly in age, sex, or severity of illness. The rate of ventilator-associated pneumonia was 12.0 per 1000 ventilator days before the intervention and decreased to 8.0 per 1000 ventilator days during the intervention (P = .06). Duration of mechanical ventilation and length of stay in the intensive care unit differed significantly between groups, as did mortality.

Conclusion Our findings suggest that use of advanced tools, a comprehensive oral care protocol, and staff compliance with the protocol can significantly reduce rates of ventilator-associated pneumonia and associated costs.

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