Patients who rely on a mechanical ventilator can reduce their risk of developing ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP) by brushing their teeth three times a day.
Hospital-borne infections are a serious risk of a long-term hospital stay, and ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP), a lung infection that develops in about 15 percent of all people who are ventilated, is among the most dangerous.
With weakened immune systems and a higher resistance to antibiotics, patients who rely on a mechanical ventilator can easily develop serious infections.
But, thanks to a proven new clinical approach developed by nurses at Tel Aviv University, there is a new tool to stop the onset of VAP in hospitals - toothbrush.
"Pneumonia is a big problem in hospitals everywhere, even in the developed world. Patients who are intubated can be contaminated with pneumonia only 2 or 3 days after the tube is put in place. But pneumonia can be effectively prevented if the right measures are taken," said Nurse Ofra Raanan, the chief researcher in the new study and a lecturer at Tel Aviv University's Department of Nursing.
Raanan collaborated with a team of nurses at major medical centers around Israel. The nurses found that if patients - even unconscious ones - have their teeth brushed three times a day, the onset of pneumonia can be reduced by as much as 50 percent.
The researchers said that it's difficult to quantify the effects precisely.
"While the research shows a definite improvement in reducing the incidence of hospital-borne pneumonia, it's hard to say by exactly how much toothbrushing prevents VAP," said Raanan.
"Sometimes, however, doctors and nurses do everything right and the patient still gets pneumonia. But this approach will certainly improve the odds for survival," Raanan added.
Normally, the teeth and oral cavity in a healthy mouth maintain a colony of otherwise harmless bacteria.
Infection takes root when a breathing tube allows free passage of the "good" bacteria into the lower parts of the lung.
The bacteria travel in small water droplets through the tube and colonize the lung. Once there, the bacteria take advantage of a patient's weakened immune system and multiply.
A regular toothbrushing kills the growth and subsequent spread of the bacterium that leads to VAP.