Oral Health Group

Good for Us! We Did It Right

June 1, 2003
by R.A.Clappison DDS, FRCD(C)

The SARS epidemic, without doubt, has caught the attention of the world. Patients were exposed to the media-hype 24/7. The symptoms of fever, myalgias, headache, sore throat, dry cough, shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing are too well known. Dentists, their receptionists, hygienists and chairside assistants were constantly questioned about SARS.

OSAP, in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Dental Association (ADA) developed a document “Five Questions to Ask Your Dentist about Infection Control.”


These are easily answered and are as follows:

1. Do you heat-sterilize all your instruments, including handpieces (dental drills) between patients?

2. How do you know the sterilizer is working properly?

3. Do you change your gloves for every patient?

4. Do you disinfect the surfaces in the operatory between patients?

5. If YOU are unclear or uncomfortable with the precautions your dental practice takes to protect you during treatment, talk to your dentist or dental team member about your concerns and ask to see the office’s instrument processing area.

The constant viewing of medical healthcare personnel in masks and gloves generated a milieu that naturally became part of dental patients’ concern for the level of infection control in the dental environment. They expected the level of cross-infection control in the dental office they deserved — and they received it.

The dental profession has always prescribed to its obligation to prevent cross-contamination of infection both for the benefit of the patient but also for the protection of the staff. We should be delighted, pleased and proud that the profession took steps years ago to develop and introduce standard precautions– we did it right– we assumed every patient to be a potential carrier and transmitter of disease. There’s a heap of satisfaction in doing the right thing.

Dentists and their staff were able to openly answer patients’ questions, address their concerns and to describe the infection control procedures of the office. It took additional time to help allay their concerns, but in describing the program, one was able to quickly inform them of procedures performed for their safety, namely: gloving and hand hygiene; masks; disinfection of dental unit waterlines to ensure acceptable purity levels in irrigation and coolant systems; disinfection of surface contamination; improved sterilization techniques and equipment and the sterilization of handpieces etc.

The dental team should sense an inner satisfaction when they observe that list. The infection controls designed to reduce cross-contamination are there and working. The pro-active actions of the profession and the development of equipment and products by the dental trades and manufacturers have created a protective environment for not only the patient’s physical health but also for their sense of trust in the dental environment. We did it right.

Dr. Clappison is Oral Health’s contributing consultant for Infection Control.

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