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    The dangers of STDs in the dental practice

    What every dental professional needs to know about contracting STDs in the dental practice.


    Dr. Reznik said most medical history forms patients fill out include questions about sexually transmitted diseases they might have. Upon seeing that a patient has a sexually transmitted disease, some dental professionals might think they need to take additional precautions. However, in the case of patients with HIV, which is a protected disability, taking extra precautions can be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. “You have to do what you do for everybody else. So, your standards, which are easily found on OSAP, are what you need to follow and make sure you're following the checklist,” he says. 

    “There should not be a difference in how one patient is treated over another. You have to presume they are all infectious,” Borg-Bartlett says.

    Universal precautions protect dental professionals and employees from exposure to diseases patients might not know they have, Borg-Bartlett explained. Some infections like the hepatitis and HIV can be asymptomatic in some patients. Unless they have had a blood test informing them otherwise, patients won’t disclose that information because they don’t know themselves. “You could live a lifetime and not ever know. So, that's why universal precautions and standard precautions must be practiced presuming every patient has a disease,” she explains.

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    In the cases where the patient might not yet know they have contracted an STD, Dr. Reznik feels that dentists should be able to recognize how some of these diseases present orally and refer them to the appropriate medical personnel. Also, dentists should screen for certain conditions and refer the patient as necessary. “We're healthcare professionals, and people are going to come in with a variety of illnesses. It could be diabetes that's uncontrolled. Or it could be so many different things. I feel very strongly that since oral health is a component of primary care that it's our job to identify these and refer as necessary,” he says.

    In some cases, Borg-Bartlett said patients might not disclose their condition for fear of not being treated. Dr. Reznik agrees, remembering his private practice days in the 80s when the dental profession was scared. When no one in Atlanta would treat patients with an HIV diagnosis, Dr. Reznik would and did, usually for free.

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    “My mom was a Holocaust survivor. I'm Jewish and have multicultural influences in my life. Ever since I was a small child, I've felt discrimination in any form is wrong in my mind,” Dr. Reznik says. “And so I couldn't see turning away people based on a medical disease. So that's why I was getting all the patients. The patients felt comfortable, and I wasn't worried about catching the disease because I didn't plan on having relations in the dental chair.”

    After five years of advocating for and treating these patients for free, Dr. Reznik joined Grady Health System, the fifth largest public health system in the U.S. Dr. Reznik is now the Chief of the Dental Service for the Grady Health System. Since then, he feels that dental professionals have done an excellent job of communicating appropriate information regarding transmission of HIV and other STDs in the dental setting.


    Next: Why practices AND labs must both be vigilant...


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