I've heard about universal precautions. Can you tell me what they are?
Universal precautions are safety procedures established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Dental Association. They are used for each and every patient to prevent the transmission of the AIDS virus and other infectious diseases. These precautions require all dental staff involved in patient care to use appropriate protective garb such as gloves, and sometimes masks and eyewear. After each patient visit, the gloves are discarded, hands are washed and a new pair of gloves is used for the next patient.
Do you sterilize the instruments including the handpiece (drill) after each patient?
According to a recent study in the journal of the American Dental Association, virtually all dentists sterilize their handpiece (drill) between patients. Dental offices follow specific heat sterilization procedures which are outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Dental Association. Disposable items, such as needles and saliva ejectors, cannot be sterilized and are discarded in special containers.
How do you sterilize the instruments? Can you show me how it's done?
Dental instruments are cleaned and sterilized at very high temperatures after each time they are used on a patient. Recommended sterilization methods include: an autoclave (steam under pressure), a dry heat oven, or chemical vapor (commonly called a chemiclave). The sterilization equipment usually is not in the treatment room, but if you'd like to see how and where it's done, ask the dental staff to show you.
How do you clean and disinfect the examining room, and how often is this done?
Before you enter the examining room, all surfaces, such as the dental chair, dental light, drawer handles and countertops have been cleaned and decontaminated. Some offices may cover this equipment with protective covers, which are replaced after each patient. Sharp items and anything contaminated with blood or saliva are disposed of in special containers.
Are there other safety guidelines that dentists must follow?
Yes. OSHA, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, has specific regulations that protect employees from injury and illness in the work place. These "safe workplace" regulations pertain to occupational settings, including dental offices with one or more employees. While the primary purpose of the regulations is to safeguard employees, these procedures also protect the patient. For example, gloves provide protection for both you and the dental team.
Don't let uncertainty about safety keep you away from the dentist's office, or cause anxiety while you're there, when a few minutes of conversation with your dentist can set your mind at ease.
Your dental health is too important to neglect. Remember to learn the facts about your dentist's infection control procedures by starting with a little heart-to-heart.
If you don't have a dentist, you can obtain ADA referrals by contacting your local dental society. The local dental society is usually listed in the telephone directory under "dentist" or "association."
What are the things to look for?
- • Is the dental office clean and orderly?
- • Is the dental staff helpful and willing to answer your questions?
- • Do the dentist and staff wear gloves and other appropriate
protective gear during all actual patient treatment?
- • Do the dentist and staff wash their hands before donning a clean pair of gloves?
- • Do all surfaces and equipment in the treatment room appear clean?
- • Are needles and other sharp items disposed of in special puncture-resistant containers?
- • Is everything that is used in the patient's mouth either heat sterilized or disposable?