One of the major responsibilities delegated to dental assistants is infection control. Assistants are often in charge of sterilizing instruments, disinfecting equipment, and cleaning and setting up the exam rooms before each patient arrives. This is no small task, and it is imperative that each step is completed thoroughly in order to insure the safety of both the patients and the staff.
It is so important that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have developed guidelines for conduct within the dental setting. OSHA is primarily concerned with the safety and health of the healthcare worker or employee, while the CDC makes recommendations regarding infection control after conducting extensive research. The CDC’s main concern is the health and protection of the overall population through preventative measures and proper treatment.
The Blood Borne Pathogens Standard is the most important law concerning the control of infections in the dental industry. The protocol set by this law mandates that all patients are treated as if they have a deadly disease, because despite their reported health history, it can be very difficult to determine if they have had any recent exposure to any infectious diseases. Treating everyone the same, and taking the utmost precaution for each treatment, greatly reduces the chance of spreading any disease or infection. These precautions are known as Universal Precautions and Standard Precautions.
Furthermore, OSHA requires that every dentist offer and pay for the Hepatitis B vaccine to all employees in the office who wish to be immunized. Personal protective equipment is also required by OSHA, and must also be supplied by the dentist or employer.
Personal protective equipment consists of scrubs, including an overcoat, jacket, and disposable gown, leather shoes, a lab coat, mask, safety glasses and face shield, and gloves. These layers of protection are meant to shield the employee from any of the patient’s bodily fluids with which they may come in contact. It is recommended that the employee change into street clothing before leaving the office, and properly clean the clothing and wash their hands to avoid transporting any contaminated material out of the office. This will prevent any disease transmission from the healthcare worker to the community.
Aerosol spray, or airborne transmission, most commonly occurs when the use of a high-speed hand piece in the patient’s mouth causes saliva and bacteria to spray and splatter on the surrounding areas in the exam room. Surface barriers such as light handle covers, syringe sleeves, and chair covers made of plastic are disposable for this reason, and should be changed between patients.
Other methods of transmission can occur from patient to patient if the personal protective equipment is not changed between patients, or by not disinfecting the treatment room or properly sterilizing the dental instruments being used. Gloves, masks, and safety glasses are also meant to prevent disease transmission from the healthcare worker to the patient because they are in such close proximity to each other during treatments and exams.
Disinfection and sterilization are two more critical steps in keeping the office and exam rooms clean, and keeping patients safe. Dental assistants must learn the proper methods of disinfecting hard surfaces and sterilizing reusable dental tools to prevent the transmission of disease.
Source by Sophie Beaudents