Infection control reminders for dental offices

There are a number of actions taken every day for every patient receiving care in a dental office. Below are reminders for four infection control procedures that are easily misunderstood, what can happen and how to prevent repeating mistakes.

Purging dental water Lines

What: Water lines must be purged daily for two minutes at the beginning of each workday and 20 seconds between patients.

What can happen: Biofilm builds up in the equipment water lines and staff may not understand the importance of reducing this buildup.

How to prevent it: Essentially, the first thing you should do when you walk in your operatory is run your water lines.

Dating instrument sterilization bags

What: After a bag of instruments has gone through the sterilizer and has cooled off, it must be labeled with the date of sterilization.

What can happen: When this action is not a regular part of the instrument handling routine, it can easily be forgotten.

How to prevent it: Get a date stamp and keep it next to the sterilizer. Every back office staff should check bags for dates and date bags before storing in the cabinets. Make it part of your routine. The last person in the office at the end of the day and the first person in the office at the beginning of the day should make sure everything is date stamped.

Labeling containers

What: All containers filled with a liquid must be labeled. This is to prevent a liquid from being used for the wrong reason, such as disinfecting, and to prevent injury. Not labeling containers of potentially hazardous materials is a violation of the Cal/OSHA Hazard Communication regulation.

What can happen: Sometimes liquids are transferred from the original container(s) to smaller container(s) for individual use, and staff may assume everyone knows what is in these smaller containers.

How to prevent it: Check every type of liquid container (bottles, trays) that is not the original container and affix a clear label. If/when the liquid is drained and replaced with a different liquid, change the label.

Ensuring proper personal protective equipment (PPE) protocols

What: PPE is how dentists, hygienists and assistants protect themselves against disease. All staff who work in the back office should have PPE to cover skin, mucous membranes and street clothes. PPE should not be removed from the dental practice by staff; to do so is a violation of Cal/OSHA regulations.

What can happen: For convenience or comfort, dental staff may wear scrubs, which are short-sleeved and have a V-neck, when treating a patient. In addition, some staff take their PPE home to wash them.

How to prevent it: Make sure all staff have proper PPE that covers them to the wrist and neck. PPE should not leave the operatory area and certainly should not appear in the waiting room. It should be washed on site or washed by a professional cleaner that picks up PPE at the dental practice.

As a reminder, dentists are responsible for ensuring that all unlicensed dental assistants who are in their employ for longer than 90 days complete the required eight-hour infection control course. Dental assistants are required to complete this course one time only and should retain verification of course completion indefinitely in their records. Dentists who hire an unlicensed dental assistant must verify the assistant has completed this course previously, or must ensure course completion within the first 12 months of employment.

Infection control resources are available on cda.org/practicesupport.

Related Items

Minimizing exposures to infectious agents should be a primary objective in a dental office for the sake of the staff and patients. To help provide guidance on this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released a resource to further prevent infections in dental practices.

The final deadline for compliance with the hazard communication regulation is June 1. The deadline marks the end of an almost three-year process to bring employers and product manufacturers and distributors in line with a global system of chemical labeling and classification.