Method: The study was conducted in two stages. Firstly, student nurse participants (n=248) completed a self-report questionnaire for emotions and intended behaviours towards seven oral care scenarios. The questionnaire was developed and tested in advance of the study. Participants also completed established disgust sensitivity questionnaires and attitudinal questions. Secondly, a subset of participants (n=38) completed computer administered Implicit Association Tests. These measured response times for sorting emotional words and oral care images. Data were analysed in SPSS with Spearman’s rank-order correlation and Mann-Whitney U tests.
Result: Participants expressed positive attitudes towards oral care and the majority (89%) agreed that oral care was a priority. Intended oral care varied for each scenario. For the most unpleasant scenario, 75% of participants were extremely disgusted with not providing oral care. Participants who strongly associated oral care scenarios with disgust reported greater disgust towards cleaning the mouth (U=201.5, p=0.02). Disgust towards brushing teeth was associated with avoidant behaviour.
Conclusion: Student nurses with positive attitudes and intentions can experience disgust towards oral care; this can be an implicit subconscious experience. Although not providing care oral evokes disgust, student nurses may avoid oral care tasks for patients with unpleasant oral conditions, which can result in inadequate care for those who need it most. The emotion of disgust may be more useful than attitudes for explaining oral care failures in hospitals.