The omission of oral care is linked to increased nurse workload and may contribute to serious patient infection and growing healthcare costs. Therefore, ineffective oral care comprises a significant patient safety issue across healthcare settings internationally. As studies have demonstrated a positive relationship between nursing leadership and improved patient outcomes, it is imperative that leaders seek effective approaches to facilitate contextual exploration of barriers and facilitators for resolution of oral care delivery problems.

One approach to improved processes of oral care is the creative engagement of front-line clinicians in the problems they confront in everyday practice. By drawing upon the role and process of facilitation, we outline two projects, located in Australia and Canada, that engaged front-line nurses, health leaders, and researchers as partners to identify a path to improved oral care delivery.

In this paper, we summarize key learnings for nursing leaders about strategies to facilitate delivery of fundamental oral care. We found that facilitation, contextual knowledge and academic–clinician partnerships were essential to the detection and evaluation of oral care delivery problems and the identification of priorities for practice improvement. As collaboration is imperative for sustainable innovation, we summarize strategies of effective leadership for improving oral care delivery.