Q: What does current evidence tell us about best practices in oral care?

A: Barbara Quinn, DNP, MSN, ACNS-BC, replies: Oral care, or oral hygiene, is the practice of keeping the mouth, teeth, and gums clean and in good health. Oral care has been promoted for more than 5000 years, although specific practices have varied across cultures and time periods. There is evidence of innovative oral care practices as early as 7000 BC, with later tools including toothpicks made of gold in Mesopotamia, toothbrushes made of chewing sticks in Babylonia, toothpaste containing ashes and eggshells in Egypt, and salt and vinegar mouth rinses recommended by Hippocrates. Although the products and practices involved may have changed, humans everywhere benefit from deliberate, evidence-based oral hygiene.

Although oral care is known to prevent cavities, it can also reduce the risk of pneumonia in hospitalized patients. Oral pathogens have been directly...

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