Let’s admit it, going to the dentist or orthodontist can be scary for many people. There are sharp needles, noisy drills, and other strange instruments going in and out of your mouth.
Many dentists and orthodontists recognize these fears so they’ve given their businesses names like Gentle Dental or Comfort Dentistry. Dental phobia is definitely a thing, but most of us scaredy-cat patients summon enough courage to struggle through dental procedures. Why? Because we know a dentist and orthodontist will stop our toothaches and fix our broken teeth. Ultimately we’ve come to realize that it’s almost never as bad as we imagined, and our anxiety is probably misplaced.
Or is it? Is there real cause for concern?
Phobic or not, you should know about grossly underreported infection control risks in dentistry that is cause for great concern.
DO NO HARM
There is a fancy word for that. Non-maleficence means a dentist and orthodontist have a duty to refrain from harming the patient.
This key principle is detailed in the American Dental Association’s “Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct” and includes a specific clause about dentists being obligated to keep their knowledge and skills current.
Yet an alarming majority of dentists, orthodontists, and hygienists are stuck in their old ways, and their bad habits can have severe consequences:
HOW WOULD YOU FEEL?
Imagine receiving this infection control letter from your State Department of Health. This letter is real. You could be the next unlucky recipient of an official government invitation to come get your free blood test because you may have been exposed to hepatitis C, hepatitis B, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), or any number of other infectious diseases while receiving dental treatment.
Wait a minute . . . I can get AIDS from going to the dentist or orthodontist??!
Yes. You should also know that this 2013 case in Oklahoma is not isolated. There are other recent incidents in the USA, United Kingdom, Australia, and elsewhere around the world.
In total, 4,208 patients from Dr. Harrington’s dental practice were tested by the Oklahoma Public Health Laboratory. 90 patients tested positive for hepatitis C, 6 for hepatitis B, and 4 for HIV.
Now you should be very scared.
And luck has nothing to do with it. Hygiene in healthcare is based upon science, and requires rigorous discipline to ensure patient safety. There are specialized decontamination procedures, equipment, and products created to eliminate the risk of cross-contamination.
Is your safety an optional service provided by your dentist, orthodontist, or hygienist?
There is always risk of exposure to pathogens for everybody involved in a dental procedure including the dentist, orthodontist, hygienist and patient. This is why dental professionals today wear personal protective equipment such as gloves, masks, and eyewear.
The transmission of infectious material goes both ways. The dentist, orthodontist, and hygienist could get you sick. You could get the dentist, orthodontist, and hygienist sick. Barrier protection such as a disposable mask is designed to prevent this from happening. This most basic type of infection control measure has not always been the norm. It might surprise you to learn that wearing protective equipment such as gloves and masks only became mandatory in 1992.
What happened to change things?
INFECTION CONTROL HISTORY
In 1991, The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced that an HIV-positive dentist in Florida transmitted HIV to six of his patients. This was the first confirmed case of HIV transmission in a clinical setting.
In 1992, barrier protection becomes mandatory (gloves, masks, etc.).
Dentists, orthodontists, and hygienists are now required to wear masks and gloves. This level of protection is essential; however, it is only the beginning of the infection control story.
Did you know that not too long ago it was common practice to boil and
re-use hypodermic needles?
Now single-use needles are standard. Each patient receives a new needle that is disposed of immediately after use. Everybody has heard that sharing needles is dangerous, and after careful study it was determined that there is no way to properly sterilize a needle due to its narrow design.
These changes all came about with proven science, but more importantly, public awareness of the facts.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
For the most part, dental offices do a commendable job at trying to ensure patients and staff members are safe at all times. But there is an alarming rate of adverse infection control breaches happening around the world. In a dental office, there are certain items that are used on every patient for every procedure that contain grossly underreported risks that are cause for concern. Patients should be informed of these risks to better understand what they are getting into when visiting a dentist or hygienist..
Over the years science has increased patient safety with the advancements of certain products and safety protocols. Not to long ago gloves and masks were optional and hypodermic needles were boiled in water to clean then reused. With the advancement in science and public awareness, none of these practices continue to be followed. Why? Because we now have a better understanding that these practices were unsafe. Today, dentists, orthodontists, and hygienists are still using two items that were designed and used over 40 years ago. The air water syringe and metal air water syringe tips have been proven to be unsafe yet no changes have been made.
We at Dentistry’s Dirty Secret are raising public awareness to let the uninformed public learn what dentists, orthodontists, and hygienist already know, but choose to ignore. When it comes to you or your family, you should be armed with the facts and risks that are associated with visiting your local dentist or orthodontist. Change in policies and dental equipment is not only made by science and technology. Until the public becomes aware of the facts and demands for change, these risks will continue to go unnoticed and unreported for the foreseeable future. Remember, it took almost 11 years to make personal protective equipment mandatory after the HIV epidemic was first reported. Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. We do not want more patients to become sick when this could have been addressed in prior years. Do we want to wait another 11 years to see results? The time to know the truth is now.
The time for action is here. With the help of the public we hope to speed this process along to ensure you and your family receive the safest dental treatment possible.