News outlets were abuzz recently over reports that suggested a dentist’s office in Tulsa, Oklahoma had been responsible for transmitting Hepatitis and potentially HIV to patients. The reports came after a patient tested positive for Hepatitis C, leading authorities to think that the aforementioned dentist may have been the culprit. Not only had multiple complaints been filed about the dentist, but investigators identified numerous sterilization issues. Among them: using needles multiple times for different patients and the presence of rust on dental equipment.
With 7,000 people having submitted to dental care from his office, authorities are worried illness could be widespread. 1,000 tests have been carried out thus far, and health officials hope to screen the rest of the potentially affected parties over the next week.
Prompted by this incident, the AARP has compiled a list of things that patients can do to ensure their own dentist’s office is safe. With slight alterations, the advice could hold true for something like a doctor’s office or a nail salon.
Perhaps the best thing you can do to protect yourself is to ask a few questions. Some people will refrain from doing so because they’re worried that their dentist or doctor will feel that their authority is undermined by constant prodding. But such questions keep medical professionals honest.
One of the best things you can ask is whether or not the dentist puts his office through the rigors of infection control. The American Dental Association provides a great resource on this topic. Dentists need to ensure that every surface inside a check-up room has been sterilized and that replaceable protective covers get switched out after each patient.
The dentist himself or herself should adhere to standards of cleanliness. Gloves are a must, while eyewear and masks are also advisable in many situations. Persons should wash their hands between each patient, and disposable accessories need to be tossed out after every patient.
Tools need to go through rigorous sterilization treatment as well. If an item makes contact with a patient, it absolutely needs to be sterilized. Needles should not be reused, nor should gauze; each should be thrown out in the appropriate hazardous materials container.
You can keep an eye on these things from your vantage point as a patient. A dentist walking into the office with gloves and a mask already on will be a warning sign, especially if there’s a box of gloves and masks in the room with you. Keep an eye on where the dentist places needles as well. If they don’t immediately go into the proper disposal area, ask why.
Finally, make your dentist is aware of any conditions that could predispose you to a greater risk of infection. You might require an antibiotic prior to a certain dental procedure. Things to make your dentist aware of include an artificial joint or a heart condition. You might even speak with your doctor before heading in for a dental check-up or operation.