Background Ventilator-associated pneumonia is a major threat to patients receiving mechanical ventilation in hospitals. Oral care is a nursing intervention that may help prevent ventilator-associated pneumonia.

Objectives To describe oral care practices performed by critical care nurses for orally intubated critically ill patients and compare these practices with recommendations for oral care in the 2005 AACN Procedure Manual for Critical Care and the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Methods A descriptive, cross-sectional design with a 31-item Web-based survey was used to describe oral care practices reported by 347 randomly selected members of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses.

Results Oral care was performed every 2 (50%) or 4 (42%) hours, usually with foam swabs (97%). Oral care was reported as a high priority (47%). Nurses with 7 years or more of critical care experience performed oral care more often (P=.008) than did less experienced nurses. Nurses with a bachelor’s degree in nursing used foam swabs (P=.001), suctioned the mouth before the endotracheal tube (P=.02), and suctioned after oral care (P<.001) more often than other nurses. Nurses whose units had an oral care policy (72%) reported that the policy indicated using a toothbrush (63%), using toothpaste (40%), brushing with a foam swab (90%), using chlorhexidine gluconate oral rinse (49%), suctioning the oral cavity (84%), and assessing the oral cavity (73%). Oral care practices and policies differed for all those items.

Conclusions Survey results indicate that discrepancies exist between reported practices and policies. Oral care policies appear to be present, but not well used.

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