How do dental offices control infection?

The American Dental Association urges all practicing dentists, dental auxiliaries and dental laboratories to employ appropriate infection control procedures as described in the 2003 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Guidelines, a comprehensive and evidence-based source for infection control practices relevant to the dental office that have been developed for the protection of dental care workers and their patients.

The ADA also urges dental workers to keep up-to-date as scientific information leads to improvements in infection control, risk assessment and disease management in oral health care.
This issue, although rarely discussed, is on the minds of most patients. Knowledge of what to expect from your dental office is the first step in having confidence in your health professional. All the instruments should be ultrasonically cleaned and rinsed, autoclaved, and sealed in protective bags. The doctor and all assistants should wear masks and gloves, and wraps should cover the chair side workstation. Disposable products are used whenever possible. Currently, there are some offices that go beyond the guidelines of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the American Dental Association (ADA). These offices place all the disposable items, which usually arrive at a dental office in bulk, into pre-packaged, hospital-style sterile packs. The contents of these packs contain all the disposable items needed for that patient's appointment. Each patient has their own sterile pack, thereby reducing the risk of cross-contamination and creating complete peace of mind.
Germs are responsible for a wide variety of diseases. Common infectious diseases caused by blood, saliva, or in airborne droplets include the common cold (Rhino virus), tuberculosis, pneumonia, herpes, hepatitis B, and HIV. Dentists and their staffs take many precautions to prevent the spread of infection from themselves to the patient, and vise-versa.

Dentists shield their patients and themselves from infections by using what is known as universal precautions. The philosophy of universal precautions assumes that any person who comes into a dental office for treatment is potentially infectious. With this in mind, dentists wash their hands before and after each patient is seen, use a new pair of gloves for each patient, wear clean protective gowns during treatment, and put on masks and protective eyewear. During treatment, high evacuation suction is used, barriers are placed in the patient's mouth to isolate the area treated, and sharp instruments (needles and scalpels) are discarded into special medical waste containers after a single use. Before the next patient is seated, all surfaces within the treatment area are disinfected, and new plastic barriers are placed on equipment to protect surfaces used for patient care during treatment. Many items used during routine dental care (gauze, cotton rolls, bibs, cups, saliva ejectors, etc.) are disposable (used once per patient).

Instruments that are not disposable (mouth mirrors, curettes, extraction forceps, etc.) are sterilized using either steam under pressure (autoclave), dry heat, chemical vapor, or ethylene oxide gas. Likewise, dental drills and waterlines undergo rigorous sterilization procedures. These methods effectively kill all forms of microorganisms, including viruses, bacteria, fungi, and spores.

Universal precautions and rigorous implementation of infection control protocol have drastically reduced the possibility of contacting any infection in the dental office. So now when you see your dentist, dental hygienist, and dental assistants approach you with protective gloves, masks and glasses, you'll know it's nothing personal; it’s to prevent the spread of infectious disease.
Dental offices control infection by adhering to safety precautions and protocols. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Dental Association (ADA) require all dental offices to use protective gloves, eyewear, and masks. Also, dental offices sterilize instruments and enforce hand washing in staff members before and after treating patients.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.