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    10 major infection control risks

    Why minimizing infection risk is vital to you, your practice and your patients.

    Everyone knows how important good infection control can be. And while it’s accepted as a fact, the truth of the matter is many practices are putting themselves at substantial risk by letting things fall through the cracks. Some oversights are very subtle and easy to overlook, while others are glaringly obvious. We talked to some experts in the field of infection control to discuss some of the ways that your practice may be at significant risk of infection.


    The biggest way infections happen is when healthcare professionals aren’t paying attention to detail. This can lead to contaminations in one area spreading to another.

    “Working around and with blood and other body fluids just seems to become routine; therefore, staff and dentists can become unaware of how they are cross contaminating in operatories and other areas of the practice,” says Mary Borg-Bartlett, president of SafeLink Consulting.

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    And while some infection control measures are standard and should be learned in school, there are others that are likely unique to the practice. For instance, specific pieces of equipment must be maintained in a unique way. Those distinct procedures must be clearly disseminated to staff.

    “Following the practice’s infection control procedures is critical in order to avoid cross-contamination of work surfaces, equipment, personal protective equipment and instruments,” Borg-Bartlett says. “An example is wearing personal protective clothing outside the operatory after treatment that has created spray or spatter. Gowns and lab-type coats should be removed in the operatory and not worn into other parts of the practice.”

    Hand hygiene

    Infection control risksAnother of the most common sources of infection is also the easiest to correct — adequate hand hygiene.

    “Proper hand hygiene is the simplest thing we can do to prevent the spread of infection,” says Karen Daw of Karen Daw Consulting and former clinic health and safety director for The Ohio State University College of Dentistry. “Yet many people are not aware of recommendations for when and how to perform hand asepsis properly. Most people know to wash hands between patients, but I see many skip hand washing when touching objects likely contaminated by blood or saliva. And washing hands after glove use protects the provider in the event the gloves have become perforated. This type of breach can allow bacteria to make contact with the skin.

    “For most procedures, a vigorous scrub with soap and water will work just fine (the scrub creates friction),” Daw adds. “Be sure to scrub vigorously for at least 20 seconds. Ask how long that is equivalent to and most people will correctly answer: singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to yourself twice or the ABCs once, slowly. And so long as the hands are not visibly soiled or contaminated, an alcohol-based hand rub is adequate between patients and glove change instead of soap and water.”

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    It might be easy to get lulled into a false sense of security when wearing gloves. But even if wearing gloves, it’s still necessary to wash your hands. While gloves seem like they should provide an impenetrable barrier against infection, the fact is that they don’t. As such, hand hygiene remains critical.

    “Hands should be washed prior to gloving and immediately after removing gloves,” Borg-Bartlett says. “In most cases, workers wash their hands upon removing gloves; however, prior to donning gloves, they don’t. The issue here is that gloves are not 100-percent perfect and contain microscopic imperfections. If a worker doesn’t have clean hands prior to gloving, then germs on the hands can make their way through the gloves. This works the other way also. Microbes can enter imperfections in the glove, which requires hand washing immediately after removing gloves.”

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    Robert Elsenpeter
    Robert Elsenpeter is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Dental Products Report and Digital Esthetics. He is also the author ...


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