Oral Hygiene Plays Crucial Part in Surgical Patient Hospital Care

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Dental care and general medical care have been approached as two separate professions since 1840.  The story goes that two self-trained dentists were turned away from a medical school in Pennsylvania where they had proposed offering an oral care specialty program, subsequently opening their own dental school, and the rest is history.  Today, dental care is not only a completely separate profession but requires separate insurance and a separate set of patient records.  And studies have found that separating dental care and dental hygiene from the rest of your physical wellness can sometimes have dire consequences, especially among post-surgical patients. 

When preparing for surgery, there are many patient concerns to consider and responsibilities to navigate.  Packing a toothbrush is likely not a large focus for patients, but according to recent studies done at Sacramento State University, the simple tool may mean the difference between a healthy recovery and post-surgical complications.  Because of the nature of surgery, where patients are spending a lot of time on their backs, often sedated, bacteria overgrowth can occur. This bacteria can move to other parts of the body, including the lungs, developing into pneumonia.  Pneumonia is the leading hospital-associated infection (HAI) in the United States, occurring in about 3-5% of surgical patients with a mortality rate of 20-40%, and most often begins in the mouth.  Recent studies have shown that performing simple oral hygiene post-surgery may be the solution to preventing this potentially life-threatening condition.

“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”

So late last year, Dr. Baker teamed with Aetna, Johnson & Johnson and Colegate-Palmolive to launch a new initiative called Rush to Brush, in an effort to support hospital patients oral care needs.  Rush to Brush is identifying pre-surgical patients and sending them oral care kits to pack with their belongings during their hospital stay. Kits include a soft-bristled toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash and self-care educational information for the patient.

They are hoping that this initiative will help to raise awareness of the importance of dental care in preventing HAIs both with the patients as well as with the greater medical community.  The program is initially launching with 36,000 Aetna members over the course of this next year.