Sterilization volunteers key to CDA Cares clinics

If previous clinics are any indication, a few thousand patients will receive free dental care in May at the CDA Cares San Jose clinic, and with that comes a need for a smooth and safe instrument-sterilization process.

Volunteer dentists, dental professionals and patients can rest assured that the sterilization team will be up for the challenge, says Diane E. Morgan-Arns, who served as the lead for sterilization at the CDA Cares Modesto and Sacramento clinics.

“Working with sharps safely while working quickly and efficiently in this type of large-scale environment is the most important feature of that area, and the volunteers will be trained accordingly,” said Morgan-Arns, who is an authorized outreach trainer for general industry Federal OSHA and Cal/OSHA and specializes in on-site inspections and regulatory compliance.

The May 18-19 clinic set for the San Jose Convention Center will allow dentists and dental professionals to provide cleanings, fillings, extractions and oral health education to Californians who experience barriers to care. What goes on behind the scenes, or beyond the “work in the chair,” is one of the key components of making the clinic function properly and a main point of emphasis.  

"Without sterilized instruments, patients cannot receive dental care, so the protocol we have set in place to make sure everything is running safely, correctly and efficiently is very important,” Morgan-Arns said.

The sterilization protocol includes: instruments being disposed of in a designated, sealed bin in each treatment area; transportation of contaminated instruments to sterilization areas by runners; cleaning and sterilization of personal instruments; cleaning used instruments; lubricating handpieces; packaging of instruments; and instrument restocking and dispersion. The average patient will use around eight instruments per station (hygiene, restorative, oral surgery) as they progress through the clinic.

“The instruments are processed and sterilized according to federal and state regulations  and we always make sure that we have a sufficient number of volunteers who are well-versed on the protocol,” said Ken Wallis, DDS, CDA Cares San Jose clinic chair. “The sterilization area at the last two clinics ran very smoothly and we expect that success to continue in San Jose.”

All volunteers working in the sterilization area receive the following documents one week before the clinic:

  • Infection Control Protocol;
  • Instrument Processing Protocol; and
  • Needlestick/Sharps Injury Protocol.

"Before volunteers even walk into the sterilization area, they receive instructions on the instrument protocol so they can see how the whole sterilization team operates. They are given a clear understanding of the importance of infection control protocol at a large event like this,” Morgan-Arns said. “Our volunteers in Modesto and Sacramento were amazing; they were working six to eight hours processing instruments – I had to ask them if they wanted to take a break.”

Eve Cuny, director of Environmental Health and Safety at the University of the Pacific, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry, is the lead for the sterilization area of the CDA Cares San Jose clinic. Cuny says she plans to make time available before the clinic for the volunteers to personally discuss with her the operating procedures and go over a checklist “to get them comfortable” and teach them the sequence.

“Sterilization is a systematic process that relies on repeating the same steps and same order every time. My main goal is to make sure everybody is in agreement on what those steps are and that they have the tools to do that,” Cuny said.

Cuny says the process will be similar to the sterilization process of a private practice, but on a larger scale. She says she plans to continue the success of previous clinics and is excited to volunteer.

“There is that saying that you always get more out of volunteering than what you give, and it’s true,” Cuny said.

Morgan-Arns says the CDA Cares clinics are a team effort and the gratitude expressed by the patients make the long days of work all worth it. Most of the volunteers in the sterilization area are dental hygienists and registered dental assistants and Morgan-Arns encourages the dentists providing treatment in San Jose to stop by and say thank you to the volunteers who clean instruments.   

“A lot of the dentist volunteers who are providing the treatment have direct communication with the patients and they get a lot of the thank-yous, so if you get a chance, please thank the sterilization team because they work really hard to ensure volunteers in the clinical areas have the instruments they need to provide patient care,” Morgan-Arns said.

Last year, the CDA Foundation and CDA hosted two clinics that provided $2.8 million in dental care to 3,676 patients thanks to the generosity of volunteers. Wallis says he expects the San Jose clinic will have a similar impact. Dozens of legislators and local elected officials attended in 2012 and experienced the volunteer spirit of dentistry and need for dental care in their constituencies.

In addition to providing free dental services and oral health education to Californians who experience barriers to care, CDA Cares is intended to raise awareness with the public and policymakers about the need for a state dental director and infrastructure to support oral health and develop policies to improve the oral health of Californians.

For more information on CDA Cares and to learn more about how to get involved, visit cdafoundation.org/cdacares.

Topics: CDA Cares