With flu season still in full swing, and now concerns about the new coronavirus, being vigilant about cleanliness wherever you go is smart. No doubt you’ve heard countless reminders to avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth in order to better protect yourself from spreading germs.
However, given that wise advice, what should you do if you have appointments with healthcare professionals who do need to examine your eyes, nose, or mouth, after they’ve been doing just that with other patients all day long?
For example, how do you know that you’re protected from flu germs, or any other infectious diseases for that matter, when you’re visiting your dentist?
It’s a good question, and one that we’ve been answering almost every day. Our patients say things like, “Dr. Wes, I’m not so sure about coming in for my appointment and having you poking around in my mouth with all the flu germs going around.”
Aside from the wondering about their exposure to the flu, patients also have a right to ask how they’ll be protected from any other potentially infectious disease, such as HIV, tuberculosis (TB), herpes viruses, syphilis, and hepatitis. After all, almost all dental procedures involve direct contact with saliva, and often times blood.
Every dental practice is required to adhere to standard sanitation requirements set by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and American Dental Association (ADA). Any breakdown in basic infection-control practices—such as unsafe injection practices or failure to sterilize instruments between patients—can lead to increased risk of transmission of infectious germs and diseases.
However, there are extra steps beyond those basic standards, that dentists can take to wipe out patient’s exposure to bacteria and viruses.
5 Top Ways To Check Sanitation Practices
Dr. Wes says, “If your dentist is going above and beyond the standard cleanliness guidelines, you’re more at risk of getting the flu from being at the grocery store than from being at the dentist’s office.” So, here are 5 ways you can tell if your dental practice is going above and beyond cleanliness standards in order to keep you healthy:
1. How are instruments sterilized?
To eliminate cross-contamination, any instruments and supplies your dentist uses in your mouth either must be heat-sterilized between each use, or disposed of after one-time use. For those that are sterilized, it takes much more than just soap and water to make sure these instruments are free of bacteria.
Most dental instruments are sterilized in special machines called autoclaves, which use pressurized high-temperature steam to sterilize instruments. Typically, equipment like autoclaves are kept in part of the office that’s out of a patient’s view, but you have every right to ask your dentist to show you how and where instruments are sterilized.
You should also ask how frequently and closely they monitor their autoclave equipment to ensure that it’s working properly. There are specific tests that dental practices must do to monitor whether or not bacteria and spores of various infectious diseases are being eliminated.
For example, at My Family Dentistry, our sterilization processes are set to meet the most rigorous level of testing for TB, which is the hardest disease spore to kill.
2. Are tools individually wrapped?
After dental instruments are sterilized in the autoclave, they should then be sealed in a sterile wrapper or bag so that your dentist is unwrapping a sealed bag of instruments in front of you. While it’s not required by the CDC or the ADA to individually wrap each and every item that goes into a patient’s mouth—such as tongue depressors—this is a practice we follow at My Family Dentistry.
Take a jar of tongue depressors as just one example. Anytime a dentist or hygienist reaches into the jar to retrieve one tongue depressor, there’s a chance that he or she might touch another one. Plus, if each depressor isn’t individually wrapped it has a chance of being exposed to airborne germs.
3. What type of disinfectant is used, and how often?
While over-the-counter Clorox wipes may be sufficient for our homes, they are not adequate to keep diseases from spreading across patients or between rooms in medical facilities. All staff members in your dentist’s office should use “hospital-grade” soap or disinfectant wipes for cleaning their hands, and “operating room grade” wipes to clean patient rooms.
Because they’re only used once, these medical-grade disinfectant wipes reduce the risk of cross contamination with fast germ-kill times, ensuring areas are disinfected quickly. Any surfaces in high-traffic areas that are consistently exposed to patients, such as the dental chairs, should be wiped between each patient use.
At My Family Dentistry, our practice is to double-wipe everything for an added measure of precaution that isn’t required by the CDC.
4. When are gloves and masks worn?
Your dentist and hygienist should be wearing sterile latex or vinyl gloves, and should only touch your mouth or the sterilized instruments while wearing them. If they need to leave the room or touch the countertop or any other surface, they should put on a new pair of gloves before touching your mouth again.
If you are allergic to rubber or latex, your dentist or hygienist can wear nitrile gloves, which are free of latex and rubber. And depending on the type of dental procedure, your dentist or hygienist might also wear a mask over their mouth, eyewear, or protective clothing such as a gown or jacket.
5. Are your questions or concerns welcome?
You’re entrusting your health to your dentist and the staff who treat you while you’re there, and you have many choices to go elsewhere if you’re not 100% sure you’re in good hands. You should feel comfortable asking about the measures the office takes to protect your health and safety. If the dentist or staff members aren’t quick to welcome those concerns and answer all your questions openly and thoroughly, you should feel free to find another practice that will.
The bottom line is that—whether it’s flu season or not—you deserve to be cared for by a dental practice that’s going above and beyond the necessary requirements to protect you from any cross-contamination of germs and bacteria.
Dr. Mullins and My Family Dentistry are dedicated to continually evaluating the best ways to deliver a top-notch dental office experience with the most rigorous safety and cleanliness standards in place. We take the health of you and your family as seriously as we do our own.
To learn more about what makes My Family Dentistry different from other dental practices, read Why Our First Patient & Her Family Are Still Our Patients—And Always Plan To Be. Give us a call at (865) 947-6453 to learn more about our dental services, or schedule an appointment online.