Preparing for surgery can be a frightening and often overwhelming experience. We worry about our health, our family and the many responsibilities we must navigate before and after an operation.
Packing a toothbrush, toothpaste and mouthwash may be at the bottom of the “to-do” list, but it could prove to be the difference between a smooth recovery and serious complications.
Surgery creates a perfect storm of conditions to wreak havoc on a patient’s oral health, and subsequently their overall health. Surgical patients often lie on their backs for hours, sometimes heavily medicated, allowing bacterial overgrowth to occur in their mouths. These bacteria can lead to medical complications elsewhere in the body, including the lungs. Numerous studiesPedersen PU, Larsen P, Hakonsen SJ. The effectiveness of systematic perioperative oral hygiene in reduction of postoperative respiratory tract infections after elective thoracic surgery in adults: a systematic review. JBI database of systematic reviews and implementation reports 2016;14(1):140-73. doi: 10.11124/jbisrir-2016-2180. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26878926Pássaro L, Harbarth S, Landelle C. Prevention of hospital-acquired pneumonia in non-ventilated adult patients: a narrative review. Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control 2016;5 doi: 10.1186/s13756-016-0150-3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27895901Quinn, B., D.L. Baker, S. Cohen, J.L. et al. Basic nursing care to prevent nonventilator hospital‐acquired pneumonia. J Nursing Scholarship 2014; 46(1):11-19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24119253 have found that a focus on oral hygiene can play a big role in preventing pneumonia, the leading hospital-associated infection (HAI) in the United States.
“It just seemed too simple that a toothbrush could make such an impact…we couldn’t believe it,” said Dian Baker, PhD, nurse-researcher and Professor at Sacramento State University. “But of course, now we know it works and we just need to get the word out. By helping people have better oral hygiene in the hospital, we can make a significant difference in patient outcomes”
Oral care is not generally a priority in hospitals today. The dental products and education that patients receive during their stays—if they get any at all—may be low-quality.