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The importance of hand washing in the dental practice


I always find it rather funny, watching dental professionals wash their hands. We take time. There is no rush. We have been so engrained in the method of hand washing for our practices that it extends into our daily lives and sometimes it is rather comical. I am always the last person washing her hands after, let’s say, prepping during a cooking class.

Recently, there was a study by Michigan State University, claiming that only 5% of the rest of the population washes their hands correctly. No, they aren’t scrubbing for the entire “Happy Birthday” song or whatever time trigger is recommended for proper hand cleanliness. So, I was heartened to learn there is a National Hand Washing Awareness Week, December 1-7, 2013. It is a national celebration of hand washing. It is not only good for the public to be aware of this, but the profession as well.

Believe it or not, there are some roadblocks to hand hygiene. Although the whole hand washing concept has been around since 1822 when a French pharmacist used liquid chloride solutions as a disinfectant, the CDC had written guidelines to proper hand washing back in 1975, long before AIDS became a concern. Compliance seems to be a factor. Several hospitals used secret shoppers to assess and monitor hand washing among hospital staff workers.

If secret shoppers are watching hospital professionals and the technique of other healthcare workers, maybe our patients are watching too? It behooves us to talk about hand washing periodically to our patients, letting them know how long they should wash as well. Take the time. Talk to your patient while washing your hands. It’s a great time to engage so they know we are doing all the right things before donning our gloves.

I was surprised the studies on the lack of compliance with proper hand washing in hospital settings. Issues such as lack of time, lack of soap, and improper knowledge of how to wash hands were noted as problems. Thinking about our teams, it is important to show new employees the proper method in washing their hands. We take so many things for granted everyone knows about universal precautions but do they know the steps behind the precautions? Maybe during a team meeting, it would be a good time to review hand washing protocol. It’s not an issue that will effect production, but an important issue to make sure everyone is compliant.

Talking to our patients about hand washing is also important in light of this Michigan State study. According to that research, 15% of men and 7% of women didn’t was their hands at all. Soap was used by men only 50% of the time, although women used it 78% of the time. Hand washing also seemed to be tied to time of day: more hand washing occurred in the morning or earlier in the day. One of the most unusual findings of the study was about subliminal suggestion. People were more likely to wash their hands when a sign was reminding them was in sight.

We serve as that reminder. I do joke with my patients about the number of times I wash my hands during a given day. I also remind them that I wash my hands after I go to the gym, run through an airport, and always before I eat. When there isn’t soap and water, there is some form of disinfection product available. Something to think about next time you enter an operatory when you are looking for something non-tooth related to talk about. Remind your patients about proper hand washing. It will help them as well.


Hand washing resources

CDC Recommendation: http://www.cdc.gov/features/handwashing/

OSAP Resources: http://www.osap.org/?page=Issues_HandHyg&hhSearchTerms=%22hand+and+washing%22

Henry the Hand Resources: http://www.henrythehand.com/news-events/national-handwashing-awareness-week/

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