Protection from Infection

dental tools laying on a table

Infection control refers to the recommended safety precautions that dentists follow to protect patients and staff. Many dental procedures involve direct contact with blood and saliva, but strict infection control helps to stop the spread of disease. Infection control procedures call for most of the instruments and supplies that your dentist uses to be either heat-sterilized or disposable.

Do all dentists practice infection control? The Occupational Safety and Health Administration Bloodborne Pathogens Standard requires that all employees who may come in contact with blood be trained about proper infection control procedures. The dental board in your state also may have additional rules that your dentist must follow.

Do dentists sterilize instruments after each patient? Dentists sterilize the drill and other instruments between patients to prevent the transmission of diseases. Dental offices follow and monitor specific heat sterilization procedures. Most dental instruments are sterilized in special machines because it takes much more than just soap and water to make sure instruments are free of bacteria. Recommended sterilization methods include placing these instruments into an autoclave (steam under pressure) or a dry heat oven, or to use a chemical vapor (commonly called a chemiclave). Typically, this equipment is kept in the office, away from patients’ view.

How are other objects sterilized? Before you enter the examination room, all surfaces are disinfected. To sterilize equipment that can’t be moved, such as X-ray units and countertops, a disinfectant is applied. Some offices may drape this equipment with protective covers, which are replaced after each patient. Disposable sharp items that cannot be sterilized—such as needles—are thrown away in puncture-resistant biohazard containers. Any disposable item that is contaminated with blood is discarded in a special container. 

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