submitted by Dr. Michael Spadafora, D.D.S.
While infection control has always been a focus of the American Dental Association and the dental schools, it wasn’t until the early 1980’s that the general public really became aware of the issue.
The 1980’s brought AIDS to the public awareness. And with AIDS came a new term – “universal precautions.” Universal precautions meant that every patient is treated as if he/she was a carrier of an infectious disease. This was done for the protection of all patients and the health care providers.
Although AIDS brought infection control to the forefront, today it is the hepatitis virus that is very concerning for patients and providers. This is because the hepatitis virus is more virulent and lives longer on surfaces.
So what do universal precautions and infection control mean for us today? In the dental world, it means that the dentists and clinical staff should be wearing fresh gloves to treat each patient. They should also be masked. All instruments that come in contact with the patient should be disposable or sterilized, using heat and/or chemicals. When the patient leaves the treatment room, the room should be thoroughly cleaned, using special chemical agents.
Opening the sterilization bags with the clean instruments in front of the patient in a dentist’s office is a subtle way of showing patients that infection control is a first priority.
As a patient, you have a right to ask about infection control procedures in the office. The dentist or staff should be more than willing to show you the sterilization area and explain what steps they take to protect your health.
If you wonder at all about your dental office’s infection control protocol, be proactive and ask questions. There is one rule of thumb, however, that is a good indicator. A meticulously clean dental office shows the attention to detail that will put your mind at ease. When it comes to infection control, every detail matters!