Oral care in cancer nursing: nurses’ knowledge and education


Hilary Southern:
e-mail: southeh@tcd.ie


Aim.  This paper reports a study of nurses’ knowledge and education in relation to oral care and oral health assessment for patients undergoing cancer treatment.

Background.  Studies suggest that ritualistic practice of oral care occurs and that nurses dislike providing this type of care. Inadequate knowledge and education of oral care among nurses have also been revealed, as well as a lack of involvement of dentists in this aspect of nurse education.

Method.  In 2003, an oral care questionnaire was administered to a non-random sample of 100 general and cancer nurses employed in an oncology centre, with a response rate of 72%. Information was collected on knowledge and education in relation to oral care, management of oral care, and influences on nurses’ knowledge of oral care and performance of oral care. The questionnaire was tested for content validity by a panel of experts and modified accordingly. Reliability of the questionnaire subscales varied from a Cronbach's alpha of 0·56–0·82. Internal consistency for the total knowledge of oral care scale obtained an alpha of 0·93.

Findings.  Data indicated that respondents had not had substantial oral care education during preregistration education, and their knowledge of oral health status, signs and symptoms of abnormalities was inadequate. Nurses placed a high degree of priority on oral care for patients with cancer. Respondents had also received insufficient support from hospital dentists for patients undergoing cancer treatment.

Conclusion.  Nurses require more education if they are to manage the oral care of patients with cancer effectively, and further research is needed into the actual practice of oral care for patients with cancer.