As a dentist, taking pains to protect yourself and your patients from germs and bacteria isn’t a new concept. You’re dealing with people’s mouths, and that’s always going to come with its share of risks.
These notions ring true, even when there isn’t a worldwide pandemic.
During “normal” times – which seem like ancient times at this point – you still had to be mindful about colds, flu, and anything else contagious. Because, well, who wants to get sick? And there’s no accounting for any given person’s level of immunity. Thus, your goal as a healthcare provider should be to minimize all potential risks.
It should be simple enough. If a patient has symptoms, they plainly don’t come in. And that’s a zero-tolerance policy, whether it’s a case of the sniffles, a mild cough, or if someone has a full-blown fever.
Unfortunately, with COVID-19, it’s reported that over 33% of cases are asymptomatic. Therefore, screening for symptoms isn’t enough alone to protect staff and patients alike. As such, robust decontamination processes are an absolute must.
Your Challenge as a Practitioner
COVID-19 before 2022 was challenging enough. But the Omicron surge has set us back another few steps after things were beginning to look promising.
But here’s the thing: after two years of riding the coronavirus rollercoaster, you can’t afford to shut down shop. Whether symptoms can be spread asymptomatically is irrelevant, you need to stay in business for three reasons:
- You’ve got to remain profitable
- Your staff needs to make a living
- Your patients need dental care
So, following the recommendations from the ADA for infection control and sterilization is pivotal to the health of your patients, staff, and practice.
We’ll highlight some of the key points from that policy below.
Key Takeaways From the ADA and CDC’s Guidelines
The CDC combined Guidelines from 2003 and a summary from 2016 to create a best-practices list, including tools and checklists for infection prevention.
As urged by the ADA, all dental labs, auxiliaries, and dental professionals must employ the necessary procedures to control infections as per the guidelines discussed above.
Moreover, dental professionals must know the latest scientific information to bolster their infection control standards, disease management, and risk assessment when providing oral healthcare.
Keep these factors in mind too:
- Sterilizer monitoring is essential to successful infection control.
- You should only use FDA or Health Canada-approved dental handpieces.
- Follow the manufacturer's instructions for sterilization and processing of your instruments and materials.
More Tips About Infection Control and Sterilization
Here are some general guidelines for infection control:
- Your handpiece, and any dental device that touches a patient’s mouth, must be run to discharge water, air, or both, for 20 to 30 seconds, at least, after each time it’s used.
- Always refer to the manufacturer’s directions for use when chemiclaving or autoclaving.
- Never autoclave the nose cone, latch head, or handpiece when the bur is in place.
- Ensure the bure is removed prior to sterilization because it could impede the sterilizing process.
- Autoclave bags equipped with a minimum of one paper side must be used to let moisture escape.
- Remove the handpieces from the autoclave when the drying cycle is complete.
- Don’t leave the handpiece in the sterilizer overnight, nor should you ever store your handpiece in the sterilizer.
- Once you’ve removed the handpiece and its components from the autoclave or chemiclave, keep them in their autoclave bag. Handpieces must naturally return to an ambient room temperature before you use them again.
- It’s wise to use pre-vacuum steam sterilizers.
What Else is Involved in Handpiece Sterilization Best Practices?
Besides ensuring you sterilize your handpieces effectively, you also need to worry about production – as it takes time to sterilize between patients.
Specifically, it’ll halt your productivity if your sterilization process isn’t a well-oiled machine. So, you need to ensure your handpiece production cycle is on point.
First, note that you need to be rotating 3 handpieces-plus during the day. And they must follow this cycle:
Being used—Being lubricated–Being sterilized–Being stored.
Not only will this approach enhance your disease prevention protocols, but it’ll also help maximize the lifespan of your dental handpiece.
Doing Your Part to Prevent the Spread of Infectious Disease
COVID-19 might have shed light on the need for stringent sterilization practices, but following these guidelines must go beyond the pandemic.
For one, who knows what’s to come tomorrow? We could eradicate the coronavirus, and then, something newer and more dangerous could come along. Plus, even the standard cold is no picnic, and many immunocompromised patients can’t afford to get sick at all.
Getting complacent isn’t an option. You’re providing care to improve people’s oral health. Patients getting sick at your practice goes against everything that principle stands for.
Fortunately, following the tips provided in this article is a monumental step toward maintaining a safe, infection-free dental practice.