Because of the tools they use and the procedures they perform, dental practices are some of the most potentially high-risk areas when it comes to catching an infection. For this reason, there are very specific guidelines provided by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) when it comes to sanitization and prevention of dental instruments.
There are three categories of dental instruments, sorted by the level of risk. Critical instruments include chisels and scalpels and any other device that penetrates soft tissue or bone. The methods of sterilization must be of the highest level. Options include dry heat, chemical vapor, or pressurized steam.
The next category of instruments is called semi-critical. These are dental tools such as reusable impression trays, condensers, and mirrors that come into contact with non-intact skin or mucous membranes. An example would be tools that are used to push filler into a cavity hole.
Lastly, there are tools that never penetrate tissue or skin or bone and are located at all times around a dental chair. Some examples include X-ray machines, blood pressure cuffs, and finger pulse oximeters. The only type of cleaning that needs to take place between patients is a wipe down with disinfectant spray.
In addition to all the tools used in the office, there is another very important factor to consider. The waterlines that patients and dental professionals use to rinse mouths during a dental visit but be thoroughly cleaned and checked on a regular basis. Without proper cleaning and disinfecting routines, there could be a buildup of bacteria that could lead to infection.
One way to stay ahead of this problem is to clean out and flush the waterlines for a minimum of 20 seconds between each patient and at the start of every working day. The type of water and tubing is also an important factor. Distilled water and sterilized tubing are highly recommended.
In addition to taking all of these precautions, the CDC has enacted temporary COVID-19 guidelines regarding medical practices. They are advising people to maintain social distancing by postponing all non-urgent visits, elective procedures, and surgeries for the foreseeable future. In addition, the dental staff is being trained on how to take precautions if they suspect a patient might already be infected with the virus.
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