Infection Control in Dentistry
The surgical nature of many dental procedures present a risk of contamination and infection of bloodborne diseases, such as AIDS and hepatitis B. Although this is an unavoidable occupational risk, there are numerous steps a dental practice can take to minimize the risk of infection to both patients and staff. The stringent risk control measures most dental practices have to make on a daily basis make dental offices an incredibly safe environment. There is no need to worry about contracting a disease from another patient when visiting your dentist.
What steps do dentists make to maximise their infection control?
A dental handpiece is the cutting instrument dentists use to remove decay from your teeth and shape them when necessary. To minimize infection, these instruments are heat-sterilized before being put in your mouth. Unfortunately, this necessary sterilization process causes the internal mechanisms of handpieces to deteriorate, meaning they must be continually replaced. However, the plus side of this is that sterilized handpieces do not pose an infection risk to patients.
Environmental surfaces of the dental practice
Airborne particles and debris from physical contact with contaminated materials can collect on various surfaces such as countertops, drawers, handles, tables, chairs, and so on. Due to the clinical environment of dental offices, each surfaces must be thoroughly wiped down with a strong disinfectant to maximise infection control. To ensure consistency, most dental offices clean their environmental services after each patient.
These are the small metal instruments your dentist uses to inspect your mouth, and are sterilized before use on each patient. Heat is the sterilizing agent most often used, as it is effective, efficient, and relatively inexpensive. Sterilization of operating instruments is considered to be the most adequate aspect of maximising infection control in most dental practices.
Gone are the days when dentists would only wear face masks when conducting surgical procedures – and with good reason. As a continued effort to minimize the risk of infection, dentists will now habitually wear a face mask for all routine dental procedures. The benefits of face masks apply to both the dentist and the patient – they prevent any potential blood spatter from a patient during a procedure from entering the dentist’s mouth, and prevent the transmission of airborne disease between the patient and the dentist. An additional advantage of face masks is that if the dentist has bad breath, they reduce the chances of it affecting the patient.
The uniforms that dentists and dental staff wear aren’t just for professional appearance – they serve a practical purpose, too. Protective clothing varies from disposable uniforms that are carefully disposed of after each use to protective uniforms that are thoroughly laundered and reused. Both the clean, sterile image and the infection control practicalities offered by protective clothing are incredibly important for patients and dental staff alike.
Many dental procedures can cause millions of particles to fly around the environment – some of which can be dangerous for your and your dentist’s eyes. In addition to their own eye protection, most dentists will provide patients with protective eyewear to use during treatment. These range from disposable single-use plastic covers to typical wide-framed safety glasses.
Believe it or not, there was a time when dentists did not wear gloves while treating patients. These days, however, dentists and dental staff wear operating gloves as standard procedure. The majority of these gloves are made from latex – which is fine for 90% of the population – but the remaining 10% are allergic to latex. For this reason, it is important to inform your dentist if you suffer from a latex allergy. Protective gloves are perhaps the most efficient form of infection control, as they provide a physical barrier between a dentist and their patient.
Continual hand sanitization is incredibly important for maximizing infection control in dental offices. Dentists and dental staff use a chemical called chlorhexidine gluconate – a highly antimicrobiological agent – as a hand wash. This hand wash combines with the skin, killing any microorganisms that may be present. When regular hand washes are combined with protective gloves, there is little chance of dental staff passing disease to their patients.
In case you didn’t already know – sterilization means killing of all life. Dental offices are homes to sterilizers of various types, with most of them using heat as the sterilizing agent – and any tools and instruments that fit inside a sterilizing machine are routinely sterilized between patients.
Dentistry – and most other medical professions – comes with its own occupational hazards such as the potential spread of blood and airborne diseases. There are numerous precautions continually made to maximise and promote infection control, from protective garments (gloves, masks, eyewear, and uniforms) to various sterilization methods such as hand wash and machines for sterilizing tools and instruments. Believe it or not, these routine protective measures mean you are safer visiting your local dentist than eating in your favorite restaurant or using a public bathroom!