You’re headed in for your regular cleaning or for a root canal procedure. The last thing you want is to go home with an illness or infection.
Well, that’s the last thing your dentist wants, too. That’s why your dental office takes steps to protect you and keep the staff healthy as well.
Dental treatment involves contact with blood and spit. That means there is a risk of diseases passing between patients and staff. These diseases include HIV, herpes viruses, syphilis, hepatitis, and flu.
Can you imagine the scene if your dentist didn’t wear gloves or a mask? But as recently as 1986, fewer than one-third did so. Today, steps to reduce infection risk are a routine part of dental practice and required by law.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Dental Association have infection control rules for dental offices. Some of the basics are outlined below.
The tools your dentist uses in your mouth are frequently used only once and then thrown away. For instance, many needles are disposable. This prevents diseases from spreading from one patient to another.
Equipment that is reused, such as drills, must be cleaned and then sterilized. This involves heating them to high temperatures. The process is checked regularly to ensure no germs survive.
You’ll notice your dentist and hygienist wear safety equipment. This should always include gloves. Depending on the procedure, he or she might also don a mask, eyewear, and clothing such as a gown or jacket.
Your dentist wears different types of gloves for different tasks. Surgical gloves are different than regular exam gloves. To be sure germs won’t spread, all dental staff should change gloves in between patients.
Wearing gloves during treatment does not remove the need for hand washing. In addition you’ll see your dentist hit the sink or use a hand sanitizer:
Before and after your treatment
Before putting on gloves or changing gloves
After touching something that isn’t sterile, such as a chair or countertop
When hands appear dirty
You can also help prevent the spread of infection at the dental office. Here’s how:
Wash your hands frequently. Use soap and water and scrub for at least 15 seconds.2Or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and rub hands together until all surfaces are covered and until dry.
Cover your cough or sneeze.
Try to reschedule your appointment if you have cold or flu symptoms.
When your dental needs can’t wait, tell the staff you’re sick. You may have to wait in a private room or wear a mask in common areas.
“Guidelines for Infection Control in Dental Health Care Settings—2003.” W.G. Kohn et al. Journal of the American Dental Association. January 2004, vol. 135, no. 1, pp. 33-47. http://jada.ada.org/content/135/1/33.full.pdf+htmlAccessed 2013.
“Hand Hygiene.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, September 9, 2011. www.cdc.gov/print.do?url=http://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/infectioncontrol/faq/hand.htm. Accessed 2013.
“Personal Protective Equipment.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, September 9, 2011. www.cdc.gov/print.do?url=http://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/infectioncontrol/faq/protective_equipment.htmAccessed 2013.
“Prevention of 2009 H1N1 Transmission in Dental Health Care Settings.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, November 23, 2009. http://www.cdc.gov/OralHealth/infectioncontrol/factsheets/2009_h1n1.htm. Accessed 2013.
“Sterilization—Cleaning.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, September 9, 2011. www.cdc.gov/print.do?url=http://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/infectioncontrol/faq/sterilization_cleaning.htm. Accessed 2013.
“Sterilization—Monitoring.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, September 9, 2011. www.cdc.gov/print.do?url=http://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/infectioncontrol/faq/sterilization_monitoring.htm. Accessed 2013.
“What Is Infection Control?” Academy of General Dentistry, January 2012. www.knowyourteeth.com/print/printpreview.asp?content=article&abc=D&iid=344&aid=1227. Accessed 2013.