Hospital-acquired Pneumonia is Killing Patients. There’s a Simple Way to Stop It.

Mary Madison, RN, RAC-CT, CDP
Clinical Consultant – Briggs Healthcare

Before you start reading, stop for a few minutes and consider the state of oral hygiene in your facility, whether it be LTC, AL or in your own home. Are you providing/doing appropriate oral hygiene? What about your own oral hygiene habits? Okay, now read on.

Kaiser Health News published this eye-opening piece – Hospital-acquired pneumonia is killing patients. There’s a simple way to stop it.,authored by BrettKelman, on July 12, 2022.

“Hospital patients not getting their teeth brushed, or not brushing their teeth themselves, is believed to be a leading cause of hundreds of thousands of cases of pneumonia a year in patients who have not been put on a ventilator. Pneumonia is among the most common infections that occur in health care facilities, and a majority of cases are non-ventilator hospital-acquired pneumonia, or NVHAP, which kills up to 30% of those infected, Giuliano and other experts said.

Many cases of NVHAP could be avoided if hospital staffers more dutifully brushed the teeth of bedridden patients, according to a growing body of peer-reviewed research papers. Instead, many hospitals often skip teeth brushing to prioritize other tasks and provide only cheap, ineffective toothbrushes, often unaware of the consequences, said Dian Baker, a Sacramento State nursing professor who has spent more than a decade studying NVHAP.

Pneumonia occurs when germs trigger an infection in the lungs. Although NVHAP accounts for most of the cases that occur in hospitals, it historically has not received the same attention as pneumonia tied to ventilators, which is easier to identify and study because it occurs among a narrow subset of patients.

NVHAP, a risk for virtually all hospital patients, is often caused by bacteria from the mouth that gathers in the scummy biofilm on unbrushed teeth and is aspirated into the lungs. Patients face a higher risk if they lie flat or remain immobile for long periods, so NVHAP can also be prevented by elevating their heads and getting them out of bed more often.

According to the National Organization for NV-HAP Prevention, which was founded in 2020, this pneumonia infects about 1 in every 100 hospital patients and kills 15% to 30% of them. For those who survive, the illness often extends their hospital stay by up to 15 days and makes it much more likely they will be readmitted within a month or transferred to an intensive care unit.”

Please review the entire article, including the studies done in California, Florida and Virginia. It’s a real eye-opener.

What will you do differently now that you’ve read this article? The price of one’s life – perhaps your own – is certainly worth the price of a proper toothbrush and the education (also supervision and assistance) of staff in the life-saving measure of brushing the teeth of the residents we care for. Is oral care, including tooth brushing on the care plans for your residents? Take a look at your past infection reports. Did you have residents with NVHAP? Did they die? Did they survive the pneumonia? Get out and educate staff, residents and their families. Brush those teeth!