• evidence-based;
  • intensive care unit;
  • mouth care;
  • oral care;
  • oral hygiene;
  • ventilator-associated pneumonia

Aim and objectives.  This paper aims to explore the factors that affect Hong Kong intensive care unit nurses in providing oral care.

Background.  The literature shows that evidence-based oral care prevents ventilator-associated pneumonia. Nevertheless, not all intensive care unit nurses provide such care. Although several studies have been undertaken to identify factors that affecting the provision of oral care, none of these studies looked at the situation in Hong Kong.

Design.  An exploratory qualitative design was adopted, with audio-taped interviews.

Methods.  A convenience sample of 10 registered nurses with 3–14 years of intensive care unit working experience was recruited from the intensive care unit of one regional hospital in Hong Kong. Transcribed interviews were analysed by means of content analysis.

Results.  The participants’ descriptions of their oral care practices covered oral health assessment, cleansing the oral cavity and care of the surrounding areas. Findings revealed the following significant factors that influenced intensive care unit nurses in providing oral care: their perceptions of the purpose of oral care; their fears about providing it; the priority of oral care; and inadequate support for oral care.

Conclusions.  The findings indicate that nurses’ oral care practices were not evidence based. Factors that affected the provision of oral care were consistent with those found in previous studies.

Relevance to clinical practice.  Study findings indicate that present oral care training should be revised. The findings also highlight the influence of ward culture on nurses’ priorities in providing oral care. Appropriate materials, adequate staffing levels and the establishment of an evidence-based oral care protocol may facilitate the provision of oral care in the intensive care unit.