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Dentists can help prevent spread of infection by properly handling infectious waste

Dentists can help prevent spread of infection by properly handling infectious waste

As with any type of waste created in dental offices and similar facilities, infectious waste is subject to many federal, state and local regulations. However, must be handled with an elevated level of caution and care.

This is even more true when certain infectious diseases are known to be circulating in a given community, such as COVID-19. We will get to how that emergent disease is affecting the dental community, but first, let’s start off with an overview on how all infectious waste must be handled by dentists and other professionals in the dentistry industry.

What is infectious waste?

Infectious waste is not to be confused with other terms, such as hazardous waste, biomedical waste, red bag waste and medical waste. Though infectious waste is in fact medical waste, it is a specific subcategory.

Infectious waste is any waste that studies have shown to be capable of transmitting an infectious disease. In some circles, infectious waste is also referred to as regulated waste because there are specific regulations in place as far as separation, storage and disposal are concerned.

This type of waste also makes up a small percentage of any waste that is created in a dentist office. It is estimated that only 1% to 2% of waste from dental offices is infectious waste.

Examples of infectious waste in dentistry

There are five common types of waste in dentistry that are considered infectious waste. These will require special care in handling, storage and disposal.

The common infectious waste types are:

  • Bulk blood or blood products and other infectious bodily materials, including saliva
  • Waste items, such as cotton balls, that have come into contact with blood, saliva or other bodily materials
  • Pathological waste, which includes extracted teeth
  • Used sharps, including needles, scalpel blades and burs
  • Potential sharps that have come into contact with infectious material, including anesthetic carpules

How dental practices must handle infectious waste

As a regulated waste, infectious waste must be separated, handled and stored in a manner different from non-regulated waste, which can be disposed of through general waste and recycling practices.

Infectious waste must be placed in properly labeled and leak-proof disposable bags. In most cases, these bags are red. They may also be put in a leak-proof container that is labeled with a biohazard symbol. The waste should be placed in these containers as close to the point of contamination as possible to help protect both patients and practice employees.

Once full, the waste containers must be stored in a ventilated location that is not accessible to patients. The waste should not be stored for more than 30 days, so dental practitioners must have a disposal plan in place.

The easiest manner of disposal is to work with a commercial waste and recycling service provider that is able to ensure that the practice remains in regulatory compliance no matter the type of waste that is being handled and properly discarded.

Improper segregation is a common violation

A common violation that dental offices face when it comes to infectious waste is improper segregation. These violations can put both patients and dentistry professionals at risk for potential injury or infection.

That’s why medical and infectious waste containers must be labeled and signage must be used to make anyone aware of what material should go in the container. Never place infectious waste in a general trash receptacle.

Containers must be closable, leak-proof, properly sized, labeled and color-coded, closed before removal from the premises.

Dental practices and COVID-19

Careful handling of all infectious and other types of waste is even more important in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As many dental practices are aware, dentistry has been severely impacted by COVID-19 social distancing requirements. Many states have issued temporary regulations that declare dentistry essential only in emergencies. For an updated list of what states have implemented restrictions, visit the ADA’s page on COVID-19 state mandates and recommendations.

The ADA has also stated dentist practices should be open only for emergency services to help slow the spread of the disease, which is caused by the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

Because this virus is very infectious, and can spread easily through droplets in the air and through aerosols, dentists must take special precautions. According to the ADA, those include the need to screen patients for possible symptoms (while noting asymptomatic patients can still spread the virus), use personal protective equipment (PPE), disinfect treatment rooms and any areas where people have access and consider how to treat patients in a way that minimizes the possibility of exposure.

Preventing spread of infection in dental offices

In addition to following all proper infectious waste handling best practices, employees at dental facilities must do their part to prevent the spread of any infectious disease or illness by using proper cleaning methods.

Before an examination room is used, make sure that all surfaces, including chairs, lights, drawer handles and countertops have not only been thoroughly cleaned, but also disinfected. Protective covers may be placed over some equipment, as long as the covers are replaced between patients.

Non-disposable items not considered to be waste, including tools, must be cleaned and sterilized between patients. Never reuse disposable tools.

Employees of practices must also wear proper PPE, which includes gloves, masks, gowns and eyewear - especially when there are known illnesses, such as COVID-19, in the community. Disposable gloves and masks must be thrown away between each patient.

Find a complete regulatory solution

Even when the current COVID-19 concerns fade, the dental industry will still need solutions for how to deal with local, state and federal regulations. From a range of waste that includes dental amalgam, medical, sharps, x-ray and more, there is a lot for any practice to manage.

That’s why those in the dentistry field rely on trusted providers that offer solutions for each of those types of waste. A company that can help dentists navigate regulations and remain in compliance is invaluable.

Partner with DRNA, a leader in dental waste management and recycling, for a complete regulatory solution that has met the needs of many dental practices and facilities.