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Infection control practices: they're not just suggestions: the necessity of preventing the spread of infection in the operatory.

You're likely thinking "Infection control--ugh, who cares about that? Does it really apply to me? I mean, why would I care about infection control practices? I'm healthy, so I'm good to go." Oh how wrong you are! As a member of the dental care team, you are a vital part of infection control within the clinic. Results from a recent study conducted at the University of Arizona found that the typical office desk has 400 times more germs than the average toilet seat! Just imagine how many germs inhabit the keyboard in your operatory since the mouth is known to be home to more than 650 different species of bacteria. Are you cringing just a little at the thought? Hopefully by now you can see why you're such an integral component in the infection control process to protect yourself, your colleagues and your patients from cross--contamination.

Infection control practices in the dental setting are not just for the Infection Control NCOIC and OIC. It starts with you and what you do on a daily basis in your dental operatory. These practices and policies are easy to implement and are critical in breaking the chain of transmission of microorganisms and preventing the spread of infectious diseases. Routine practices for infection control include assessing and screening the risk of exposure/contamination and incorporating risk reduction strategies to mitigate these risks.

So what, exactly, is your role in the whole infection control process? Let's start with the basics: hand hygiene. We have anywhere between two to 10 million bacteria on our skin just from our finger tips to elbow alone. Thousands of these immune-compromising culprits hide under watches, bracelets and tings. Thorough and timely hand hygiene is undeniably the most significant risk reduction strategy you can implement. Wash your hands and wash them often: before and after seeing a patient, after cleaning the operatory, before eating, and after using the restroom. Wet your hands under warm running water and gently scrub your hands, wrists, between fingers, and under your fingernails with soap for 20 seconds; rinse and pat your hands dry. Finally, ensure that you turn off the water with a disposable towel. Also minimize the amount of jewelry you wear in the operatory to protect yourself from contamination. It's as easy as that.

Next step: barriers and personal protective equipment (PPE). Disposable barriers are an effortless means of purging the operatory of microorganisms after dental treatment. Use them for every patient and on all surfaces that you will contact while rendering care. This includes the overhead light handles, chair controls, headrest, bracket table, amalgamator controls, and the computer keyboard and mouse. Minimize clutter in the operatory, which can become contaminated with aerosols during treatment. Finally, ensure that unneeded instruments and equipment are put away and that all cabinet doors are closed.

PPE functions to protect you and your clothes from contamination while you see your patients. Think of it as your Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) suit against those malicious disease--causing germs. To this end, you will want to protect as much of yourself as possible: wear eye protection with side shields; wear a mask over your nose and mouth; wear a disposable overgarment which covers your lap; wear your gloves so that they cover the wrists of your overgarment; keep your hair pulled back. Since your PPE will become contaminated during use, remember to remove all of it prior to leaving the operatory. You don't want to accidently contaminate other areas of the clinic.

What's next, your inquisitive mind may inquire--cleaning and disinfecting the operatory. First of all, what's the difference between cleaning and disinfecting? Cleaning is the physical removal of contaminates from equipment and surfaces, while disinfecting is the inactivation of microorganisms. While wearing your PPE, remove and dispose of all surface barriers. Next, spray all surfaces with a surface disinfectant. After the appropriate contact time for your surface disinfectant, wipe the surfaces dry. After doing this, you can remove your PPE and wash your hands. Remember--never re-set the operatory until you completely finish disinfecting it.

See--infection control practices are easy! With minimal effort and time commitment, your actions go a long way toward protecting everyone in the clinic from the risk of contamination and expo sure. Infection control starts in the operatory and it starts with you.

CPT(P) Jaime A. Hughes is currently stationed at Fort Sill, OK, where she is the Infection Control Officer for the DENTAC. CPT Hughes is a periodontist and serves as the periodontal mentor for the Comanche 1-year AEGD residency.
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Title Annotation:U.S. Army
Author:Hughes, Jaime A.
Publication:The Dental Assistant
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2012
Words:757
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