Many people experience unwarranted anxiety about visiting the dentist.
The AIDS epidemic that began in the early 90's and continues today, has many people concerned about the possibility of contracting HIV via medical procedures.
Dentists today practice stringent infection control precautions that virtually eliminate any possibility of being exposed to HIV. The American Dental Association has developed ADACares, a public education program that dispels the myths about infection control procedures. Many patients unfamiliar with technology and medical procedures may not be aware that sterilization and other infection control precautions are taking place in the dentist's office, because many of these procedures occur out of view.
Infection control is the procedures medical and health professional practice to ensure that patients as well as dentists and their staff are protected against the spread of germs. Dentists often come in contact with saliva and blood particles, all of which can carry bacteria and viruses that can spread from instruments and equipment.
In 1986, less than 30 percent of dentists wore gloves, masks or gowns. Because of improved procedures and heightened awareness to the dangers of infection, infection control tools are required in all dental practices today. To fight the spread of diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B (HBV), syphilis, and herpes viruses, our office has strict infection control procedures.
You may have heard a term called "universal precautions." These are an exhaustive set of important guidelines promulgated by the Centers for Disease Control. These precautions require all dental staff involved in patient care to use appropriate protective garb such as gloves, masks and eyewear.
Much of what a dentist and dental assistant uses during your treatment are thrown away after each patient. This includes gloves, masks, paper drapes, scalpel blades, and needles.
In addition, dentists sterilize hand pieces and other instruments to prevent the transmission of diseases after exams and procedures. Most dental instruments are sterilized in special machines that expose them to chemicals or steam, destroying harmful germs and bacteria.
When you visit the dentist office and are welcomed into an exam room, you can be confident that all surfaces, such as the chair, drawer handles, lights, and countertops have been disinfected. To sterilize equipment that can not be moved, such as X-ray units and countertops, disinfectant is applied after each patient to ensure a sterile environment. Sharp items and anything contaminated with blood or saliva are disposed of in special containers with safety lids.
Taking into consideration all of the various ways dentist's practice infection control in their office, hand washing is probably the simplest and most effective means to protect. Hands are washed at the start of the day, before gloving, after removal of gloves, and after touching any contaminated surface. Different kinds of protective gloves are used in the office. Latex or vinyl gloves are used for patient exams and procedures, and are worn when skin is in contact with body fluids. Between patients, the gloves are thrown away, the hands washed, and a new set of gloves is used to treat the next patient. For cleaning and sterilizing instruments, heavy rubber utility gloves are used.
Things to look for to ensure a safe dentist office:
- 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 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?