Everyone who works in a dental practice, whether as a dentist, assistant or administrative personnel, has a duty to create and maintain a safe, clean environment not only for employees, but also for patients.
In fact, maintaining that safe environment sits alongside the responsibility to deliver a high-quality, comfortable level of care as any office’s top priorities. As any health care setting, these offices must take every step possible to prevent health care-associated infections, or HAIs, which can affect both workers and patients.
In this post, we will cover what it looks like for dental practices to maintain safe and clean environments that help ensure everyone who steps foot inside remains healthy.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines health care-associated infections (HAIs) as infections that people can get while they are receiving medical attention. HAIs can be contracted in any facility that deals with health care procedures both minor and major.
HAIs are caused by bacteria, fungi, viruses and other less common pathogens. These infections are no small risk either, as they are a considerable cause of illness and death. These cases are also very costly for the U.S. health care system.
This is why dentists - and every employee who works in the same offices - must do what they can to mitigate the risk of HAIs and other health concerns that may be present in their facility.
Perhaps one of the first steps toward understanding how to keep a dental facility or practice clean is to follow best practices for disinfection and sterilization as set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Disinfection and sterilization help prevent the transmission of infections to both patients and health care workers.
First, it’s important to differentiate between cleaning, disinfection and sterilization.
Cleaning is removing with detergent and water or enzyme cleaner and water any visible soil, blood, microorganisms and other substances from surfaces, instruments and equipment either manually or through a mechanical process.
Disinfection eliminates most or all pathogenic organisms. This is accomplished through the use of liquid chemicals. There are different levels of disinfection. Higher levels will kill more organisms.
That leaves sterilization, which is a process that kills all microbial life.
For a surface to be properly disinfected per CDC guidelines, it must first be cleaned. All dirt and debris must be removed. Once that happens, a disinfectant can do its work.
After cleaning surfaces by following the directions on the product being used, coat surfaces with a chemical disinfectant. Follow directions for any disinfectant used, paying close attention to contact time, safety and methods to follow.
Repeat the disinfectant step if necessary.
Dentists and dental assistants use many different instruments throughout the day. Every instrument needs to be thoroughly cleaned and sterilized to keep patients and workers safe.
In busy work environments, instruments can be pre-soaked between patients before they are cleaned and sterilized. Pre-soaking in certain products, such as enzymatic spray gels, can help break down material.
Instruments then should be cleaned thoroughly, either with ultrasonic cleaning, automated washers or manual scrubbing before they are sterilized. This is key because some sterilization processes, such as superheated steam, will not be effective if the instrument is not cleaned of all dirt and debris.
Instruments must also be completely dry before they are sent through a sterilization process.
Dusting is not a process to overlook in dentistry. Dust can carry germs and bacteria that pose the same risks as dirty surfaces and instruments. To clean dust the right way, use dampened soft cloths, microfiber dusters or a small vacuum.
Dusting should be a regular part of cleaning. If dust is visible, then it’s been too long and peoples’ health already could be at risk.
As they are constantly working in close proximity to patients, including patients’ mouths and noses, dentists must always know how best to protect themselves from infection and disease.
The first line of defense for any dental worker is personal protective equipment, or PPE. For professionals in this industry, PPE includes clothing and equipment like safety eyewear, face masks, impermeable socks and proper gloves for hand protection.
PPE protects dentists from pathogenic organisms that could be found in blood, saliva or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM). Proper PPE is designed so that it protects the wearer’s skin, eyes, nose and mouth from being exposed to those pathogenic organisms by either contact transmission, which can be direct or indirect contact, and respiratory transmission, which would include inhalation of droplets or airborne transmission.
Every employee working in a dental facility must follow the correct hand hygiene procedures. Unclean hands is one of the most common ways HAIs are transmitted from person to person. As such, correct hand washing is required.
This means washing hands when first beginning work, before putting on gloves, after taking off gloves and then again before putting on new gloves. Hands should also be washed if hands are ever visibly contaminated with blood or other OPIM.
In addition to washing hands, employees should also keep fingernails short; remove all jewelry from hands and wrists; use sinks with automatic, foot or knee controls; and know when a regular hand washing will suffice versus when an antiseptic should be used.
Discarding waste is often the final step of any thorough cleaning process - but it’s often the step that is regulated the most.
Each type of waste, both hazardous and non-hazardous, that a dental practice comes into contact with is regulated differently. But no matter the waste type, germs and infectious bacteria can fester and spread easily if it is not discarded correctly. That’s why waste must be dealt with quickly and regularly.
Be sure to follow industry standards for all wastes, especially clinical and amalgam wastes. A practice could face fines and other legal action if this is not done. Make sure all staff is knowledgeable of Environmental Protection Act rules.
Keeping tabs on all environmental regulations and compliance requirements can be a drain on any dental facility’s resources.
But that’s where dental waste management services come into play. These service providers can help make sure all practices and facilities they work with follow regulations and minimize legal risk.
DRNA works with many partners in the dental industry. Contact us to see how we can help your practice or facility.