, Volume 33, Issue 6, pp 1066-1070
Date: 24 Mar 2007

Oral care practices in intensive care units: a survey of 59 European ICUs

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To explore the type and frequency of oral care practices in European ICUs and the attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge of health care workers.


An anonymous questionnaire was distributed to representatives of European ICUs. Results were obtained from 59 ICUs (one questionnaire per ICU) in seven countries 91% of respondents were registered nurses.

Measurements and results

Of the respondents 77% reported that they had received adequate training on providing oral care; most (93%) also expressed the desire to learn more about oral care. Oral care was perceived to be high priority in mechanically ventilated patients (88%). Cleaning the oral cavity was considered difficult by 68%, and unpleasant as well as difficult by 32%. In 37% of cases respondents felt that despite their efforts oral health worsens over time in intubated patients. Oral care practices are carried out once daily (20%), twice (31%) or three times (37%). Oral care consists principally of mouth washes (88%), mostly performed with chlorhexidine (61%). Foam swabs (22%) and moisture agents (42%) are used less frequently as well as manual toothbrushes (41%) although the literature indicates that these are more effective for thorough cleaning of the oral cavity. Electric toothbrushes were never used.


In European ICUs oral care is considered very important. It is experienced as a task that is difficult to perform, and that does not necessarily succeed in ensuring oral health in patients with prolonged intubation. Oral care consists primarily of mouth washes. The use of toothbrushes should be given more attention.

This research was supported in part by PIO5/2410 FIS of the Spanish government and the Catalonian Research Fund (2005/SGR920), and by CibeRes (CB06/06/0036).