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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!


OTCs vs. Opioids

Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are more effective than opioids for dental pain

Most people will have their wisdom teeth extracted at some point in their lives. Managing pain is typically the primary concern patients have post-extraction. If you or someone in your family is having their wisdom teeth removed, your dentist may prescribe an opioid to help with short-term pain. But you may be surprised to hear that over-the-counter (OTC) medicines have been shown to be more effective at reducing dental pain than opioids.3 So those medicines should be your first choice if you have a toothache, or after you’ve had a dental procedure.

Need help choosing the right OTC medicine?

When you’re in pain, all you want is relief, and with dozens of OTC pain relievers on store shelves —or even in your home medicine cabinet — the choices be overwhelming. is a great resource for more information on OTCs, including comparisons of the most common options. These medicines may treat similar symptoms, but they work differently in your body. Be sure to compare pain relievers by looking at their active ingredients, uses, warnings, and dosage directions to understand their differences. OTC pain medicines can quickly help you feel better, but it is important to use them safely. Follow these tips to achieve safe, effective results:

  • Take the dose directed on the label. Even if you’re in a lot of pain, it is not safe to take more medicine than the label says.
  • Wait the right amount of time between doses.
  • Don’t take more than the daily limit.
  • Take ONLY one medicine with the same kind of active ingredient at a time.
  • If your pain lasts for more than 10 days, stop taking the medicine and see your doctor. It’s possible that the problem may need more attention, or a different treatment approach may be needed.

Talk to your doctor

If you need to have an impacted wisdom tooth extracted, it’s important to talk to your dentist about opioid alternatives. In fact, studies show that a combination of ibuprofen (Advil®, MOTRIN®) and acetaminophen (TYLENOL®) is just as effective, with fewer side effects, than opioids following dental surgery.3 You should also ask your doctor about EXPAREL, the opioid-free option for long-lasting pain relief after surgery. EXPAREL starts controlling pain during surgery and lasts for 72 hours, when you need pain relief the most. Unlike opioids, which affect your whole body, EXPAREL works by numbing only the area around the impacted wisdom tooth. Aetna covers EXPAREL with impacted wisdom tooth extractions.

In the event your doctor or dentist offers to prescribe opioids, let them know you’re open to non-opioid treatments. Aetna’s Find a Doctor tool allows members and nonmembers to search for surgeons that offer non-opioid pain relief options.



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

3American Dental Association. Oral Analgesics for Acute Dental Pain. ADA. May 22, 2019. Available at: Accessed July 8, 2019.

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