Universal Precautions, Keeping Patients Safe

Universal Precautions, Keeping Patients Safe…

I remember, back in the 1980’s, when the term “universal precautions” first came about.  At the time, I didn’t know the word, but was really freaked out the first time I went to the dentist and everyone was wearing gloves and masks.  I didn’t sleep for a week.  I thought they all knew of some deadly vicious disease that I had that they didn’t want to catch.

Yes, I was that kind of kid.

In actuality, the term “universal precautions” came about due to the discovery of HIV/AIDS.  What it really means is that healthcare providers treat patients based on the assumption that all patients have all diseases and, therefore, maintain the same sterilization and decontamination procedures at all times.  Today, for some bureaucratic reason, we call these “standard precautions.”

What measures are taken to prevent the spread of infection in dental offices?

All dental offices are required to adhere to universal precautions for infection control.  The underlying principle is that you can never know for sure if and what type of pathogens any patient or team member may have when they walk in the door.  Therefore, you treat each and every individual the same by assuming that they may have any infection that’s out there.  The following are a few of the ways that your dentists and their teams keep you safe.

Personal protective equipment – Your caregivers wear an assortment of eyewear, disposable gloves, disposable masks, and other “gear” to keep from spreading germs between patients and staff.  This protects both patients and staff.

Constant hand cleaning – We wash our hands or use a water free hand sanitizer between every patient and every room.  I’ve never stuck a bare hand in someone’s mouth, but if I did it would be darn clean because I seem to be hand washing every time I turn around.

Unit dosing – We use as many disposable items as possible.  If it can be used one time on one patient and discarded, that’s what we do.  Single patient use products just make sense and are safer for everyone.

Breaking down rooms – No, this does not apply to those old dental chairs with mustard yellow upholstery that seems to be wearing a bit too thin.  Breaking down a room means that any surface or object that has been touched by patient, doctor, or staff gets sprayed and wiped down with professional grade antiseptic.  This is one reason why dental offices have that familiar “dental office” smell…jugs of antiseptic are used to keep the treatment rooms as close to sterile as possible.

Sterilization – Some instruments must reused.  These instruments go through a rigorous, multi-step process that completely cleans and sterilizes them.  They usually enter the treatment room in stainless steel trays wrapped in paper or plastic “packs” that are sealed from outside air.  These sterile packs are then opened just before patients are brought back.  These instruments are always cleaner than the mouth they are going into.

Checks and balances - Sterilization equipment is constantly checked and calibrated to ensure that it is working properly.  If a piece of equipment doesn’t check out, it is immediately removed from use.  For this reason, many dental offices keep multiple sterilizers as back-ups.

These are just a few of the many layers of protection provided to patients in dental offices across the country.  It is all done to protect you.

            Until next time, keep smiling.

-Questions or comments can be sent to Drs. Parrish through their website, www.ParrishDental.com.