Critically ill infants admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit are at risk for ventilator-associated pneumonia and abnormal oral colonization. Adherence to evidence-based guidelines for oral care in critically ill adults is associated with improved short- and long-term health outcomes. However, oral care guidelines for critically ill infants admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit have not been established, possibly increasing their risk of ventilator-associated pneumonia and other health complications.
To describe and summarize the evidence regarding oral care for critically ill infants admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit and to identify gaps needing further investigation.
The MEDLINE (through PubMed) and CINAHL databases were searched for observational studies and randomized controlled trials investigating the effect of oral care on oral colonization, ventilator-associated pneumonia, and health outcomes of infants in the neonatal intensive care unit.
This review of 5 studies yielded evidence that oral care may promote a more commensal oral and endotracheal tube aspirate microbiome. It may also reduce the risk of ventilator-associated pneumonia and length of stay in the neonatal intensive care unit. However, the paucity of research regarding oral care in this population and differences in oral care procedures, elements used, and timing greatly limit any possible conclusions.
Oral care in critically ill infants may be especially important because of their suppressed immunity and physiological immaturity. Further appropriately powered studies that control for potential covariates, monitor for adverse events, and use recommended definitions of ventilator-associated pneumonia are needed to make clinical recommendations.