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Protecting yourself against infections in the dental practice

Everyone who works in healthcare is at risk of infection, especially dentists and dental hygienists who spend most of their day in very close proximity to the oral and nasal cavities of multiple patients. To prevent the transmission of diseases between dental healthcare workers and their patients, it’s vital everyone in your practice takes the proper precautions and follows adequate infection control procedures. 

How dental professionals are affected

Dental professionals are at risk of being exposed to many microorganisms found in the blood and saliva of the patients they treat at work. These microorganisms include:

Infections can be transmitted between patients and dental professionals via saliva and blood through direct contact, droplets and aerosols. Indirect contact transmission of infection is also possible through contaminated instruments. This means that not only do dental professionals need to take precautions against spreading disease between humans, but they also need to take care to avoid transmitting viruses through the use of their instruments. 

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Precautions to take

Because you can never be certain if your patients are harboring an infection, the following recommendations should be taken on board when treating all patients in your dental practice.

Enquire about their medical history

Always obtain a detailed copy of a new patient’s medical history and maintain thorough reports for your current patients. Before you treat a new patient for the first time, create a form for them to fill out with sections for:

  • Medications they take
  • Current illnesses
  • Whether they’ve ever tested positive for hepatitis
  • Recurring illnesses
  • Any recent unintentional weight loss
  • Presence of lymphadenopathy
  • Oral soft tissue lesions or other infections

Stay up-to-date

While the principles of infection control and prevention remain largely unchanged, modern technologies, equipment, materials and information mean it’s important all members of your dental team keep their skills and knowledge up-to-date with regards to the diagnosis and management of infectious diseases which could be transmitted in the dental practice.

An effective way to do this is to follow some top-rated dental care blogs and check them regularly. There are plenty of workshops to take part in and lectures you can attend which also cover this topic. When you return to your dental office, have a meeting and pass the information on to your team and inform them of any new infection prevention policies you’re going to implement.  

Protect yourself

Ensure you and your staff wear personal protective equipment (PPE), including face masks, safety eyewear, impermeable smocks and gloves, to defend yourself against microbial contamination every time you treat a patient and clean/prepare dental instruments. Taking this precaution helps prevent you from passing any infection you may be harboring onto the instruments and onto patients. It also helps prevent you receiving any possible viruses passed on by patients.  

The quality of the PPE you choose is incredibly important. Utility gloves which are chemical- and puncture-resistant which can be disinfected in a steam autoclave in between uses are essential for every dental practice.

Wash your hands thoroughly and often

Although the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention’s Hand Hygiene Guidelines Fact Sheet claims that wearing gloves reduces hand contamination by 70-80%, wearing gloves certainly doesn’t mean you don’t have to wash your hands. To keep the possibility of transmitting infection down to an absolute minimum, it’s vital you and all your team wash your hands thoroughly and often.

The CDC recommends dental health practitioners wash their hands:

  • Every time gloves tear
  • Whenever hands get visibly dirty
  • Before and after treating each patient
  • After touching instruments used in a procedure

To practice proper handwashing, dental professionals are advised to either wash their hands with antimicrobial soap for at least 15 seconds, being sure to clean under the fingernails and between the fingers, or wash their hands with a sanitizer and let it dry completely before touching anything. 

Take extra care with sharp instruments and needles

All sharp items, including needles and scalpels, should be considered as potential harbors of infection and therefore handled with extraordinary care to prevent unintentional injuries and infection transmission. 

After use, disposable sharp objects should be placed into puncture-resistant containers which should be available in every treatment room. Recapping a needle increases the possibility of needlestick injury. Because of this, whenever an individual patient requires multiple injections from a single syringe, it’s wise to place the unsheathed needle into a sterile field in between injections and avoid recapping it.  

Pre-spray your instruments

When your dental practice is particularly busy, you might not always have time to clean your instruments immediately after you’ve used them. This can cause a major problem since biological debris, such as blood, often dries out and hardens onto instruments, making it difficult to remove when you do find the time to give them a thorough cleaning.

One way around this is to spray your used instruments with a solution which maintains the moisture in organic buildup. Many infection control experts recommend enzymatic spray gels as an effective way of easily breaking down buildup prior to proper cleaning.

Another alternative solution is to hire an additional dental assistant to clean your instruments as soon as you’re finished using them. This way you can spend more time treating your patients and less time worrying about the transmission of infection in your dental practice. When you hire staff with Cloud Dentistry, you can talk to them directly before you present them with a job offer and you only ever pay for the exact hours required, making it a much more affordable option to traditional hiring. Plus, if you decide that your new dental assistant is such a great asset to your business you want to take them on permanently, you can do so without any permanent hire fees. 

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Decontaminate surfaces

At the end of the workday, all surfaces and countertops which may have been contaminated with saliva and blood must be properly cleaned to remove all organic material and then disinfected with a suitable chemical germicide. Standard household bleach is a very affordable and effective germicide. However it’s important to take care, as this decontaminate is highly corrosive to metals, especially aluminum. 

Take care of your patients, your staff and yourself

It’s down to the dental practice owner to establish a proper protocol to limit the spread of infection for the wellbeing of their patients, staff and themselves. This can easily be accomplished by adhering to the control measures mentioned above, staying on top of the latest industry changes and adapting your policies as necessary. 

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