What Is Cross-Contamination?

Cross-Contamination: The process by which bacteria or other microorganisms are unintentionally transferred from one substance or object to another, with harmful effect.


How Can Cross-Contamination Occur?

Cross-contamination occurs when cleaning or sterilization has not been done or not been done effectively. Most offices have an “infection control” staff member that their sole duty is the cleaning of instruments and office. Let’s use one example, the autoclavable air water syringe tip. Autoclavable tips have been proven by science that the current sterilization protocols are ineffective. This tip, not cleaned properly, has serious potential for cross-contamination. What happens is the blood, saliva, and tissue from one patient is sucked back into the tip. The tip is then put into the ultrasonic fluid, which does not get cleaned as often as it should, meaning it is introduced to even more bacteria. The tip then goes into the autoclave which bakes the bacteria into the tip. This tip then is used on another patient. The potential of blood, saliva, and tissue from one patient being introduced into another patients’ mouth would be cross-contamination. There are many more examples of every-day cross-contamination potential. Not cleaning utensils properly, not cleaning dental chair, dental staff not wearing proper safety wear (gloves, masks, etc.). Cross-contamination is dangerous. This is the easiest way for patients or dental staff to get sick.

Why Cross-Contamination Is Dangerous?

Cross-contamination is dangerous because people can get sick. There have been many instances, not only in dentistry, where there have been patient-to-patient or dentist-to-patient contractions of Hepatitis C, HIV, and much more. Most people don’t think they can get sick when they go to a dental office, but that’s not true. Knowing what cross-contamination is will help you understand how to keep yourself safe when being treated at a dental office. For more news stories, please visit the NEWS page on this site to see how common cross-contamination occurs.

Cross-Contamination Prevention

To prevent cross-contamination you should always be aware of devices and products that are used on every patient. Dentists, orthodontists, and hygienists do a great job at ensuring their offices are clean, but the real danger lies with the products they use. Unfortunately, there are dental products and devices that haven’t been updated in years. And as we know, bacteria and micro-organisms are consistently mutating and becoming resistant to current sterilization procedures. Dental staff need to be aware of this and ensure the products they use, when available, are disposable. Disposable products are designed to eliminate cross-contamination. Products that are disposable are used on one patient and then discard. This eliminates products being used on multiple patients, therefore eliminating the likeliness of cross-contamination. When you go to a dental office, also ensure the staff are wearing protective wear (gloves, masks, eye protection). This helps to ensure you are safe and the dental staff are safe.

On your next visit to a dental office, ask the staff what they do to prevent cross-contamination.