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Rush to Brush

If you’re going into the hospital, pack your toothbrush, toothpaste and mouthwash

Preparing for surgery can be an overwhelming experience. We worry about our health, our family and the many responsibilities we face before and after an operation. Packing a toothbrush, toothpaste and mouthwash may be at the bottom of the “to-do” list when anticipating a hospital stay, but it could be the difference between a smooth recovery and serious complications.

Why is good oral hygiene important during a hospital stay?

Surgery creates a perfect storm that increases your risk of getting pneumonia before you leave the hospital. When this type of “hospital-acquired pneumonia” (HAP) occurs, the germs that cause it usually come from the mouth.1 After surgery, patients are often lying on their back, making it easier for bacteria to get into the lungs. HAP can be life threatening, so it is very important to take steps to try and keep this from happening during a hospital stay.

Numerous studies2 have found that focusing on your oral hygiene while in the hospital can play a role in preventing HAP. It might seem too simple that brushing your teeth and rinsing could make such an impact, but now we know that if people have better oral hygiene in the hospital, it can help them have a problem-free recovery. In one California hospital where patients maintained good oral hygiene after their surgery, HAP was reduced by over 70 percent — saving 61 lives!

Oral health is frequently on the backburner in hospitals. But it’s actually more important to take care of your teeth and mouth when you go in for surgery, not less. So, when you pack your bag for an upcoming hospital stay, don’t forget your toothbrush, toothpaste and mouthwash!

1Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Healthcare-associated Infections (HAI) Data. CDC. October 5, 2018. Available at: Accessed July 8, 2019.

2Pedersen 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

Pássaro 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

Quinn, 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

Baker D, Quinn B. et al. Sustaining Quality Improvement; Long-Term Reduction of Nonventilator Hospital-Acquired Pneumonia. Journal of Nursing Care Quality 34(3):223–229, JUL 2019; doi: 10.1097 /NCQ.0000000000000359