A new study led by a Hadassah Medical Center nurse has proven that brushing a ventilated patient’s teeth three times a day can radically cut down the rate of Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia (VAP), a prevalent hospital-born infection which is responsible for thousands of deaths each year.

This type of pneumonia afflicts patients who are on ventilators because bacteria from their mouths travel down to the lungs. The pioneering study, published in an Israeli nursing journal, and about to be published in a leading international journal, was performed by a team of eight nurses from the Hadassah Medical Center and other Israeli medical centers. Julie Benbenishty, the study’s leader, believes that brushing the ventilated patient’s teeth reduces VAP infections by 25 percent, although more studies are needed to confirm this percentage. Because VAP can set in as early as two to three days following intubation, it’s important to start the teeth brushing early.

The idea to examine the effects of teeth brushing on VAP emerged three years ago during discussions among a group of Israeli nurses who call themselves, “The Evidence Based Nursing Practice Group.” They decided to meet once a month on Fridays—their day off— and plan the study. Now that they have collected clear-cut evidence that teeth brushing is an effective preventive measure, the Israeli nursing research team expects that hospitals everywhere will make a bigger time investment in the toothbrush.