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Protecting yourself!

This edition of The Dental Assistant is all about infection control. Infection control is a never-ending battle that we all have to work at to win. I don't practice in a dental office anymore, but deal with infection control on a daily basis. My work includes visiting university dental schools along with weekly air travel. I have to practice good infection control, just like all of you but in a different way. In this article I would like to share some thoughts with you, so you can protect yourself as you protect your patients.

I am a pretty healthy individual, and I pride myself in the lack of sick days I have taken in the past 10 years. However, I have gotten very sick twice since February 2006 and it made me stop and think about all the things I touch that tens of thousands of people touch. Ick! I hope that when you and your family travel in the future, you stop and think about some of the things I am about to tell you.

Many of these things will pertain to areas of the dental office that we would probably not normally think about.

Checking in at the airport has been made simple and efficient by adding the electronic kiosks. To operate the kiosks you must touch the screen to enter the data. A few weeks ago, I asked one of the airline attendants if they wipe the screens down with some type of disinfectant. She looked a little confused, and replied, "not that l know of." There have been a lot of fingers on that screen, and who knows where they have been. After I have finished checking in I now take out my handy little bottle of Purell hand disinfectant and rub it in. Both the active ingredient, ethyl alcohol, and the friction of rubbing will help to eliminate germs on our hands. They also make funsmelling hand sanitizers that are child friendly. Take a moment to notice how many times you touch your face. It's a lot. (I guess I have too much time on my hands at the airport.) Points of contact such as mouth, eyes, and nose should be avoided as much as possible.

Now up the escalator. Just take a look at the black rubber handles. They look just filthy with tons of hand- and fingerprints. To be safe, it is important to hold onto the handrail. But how safe is it if it never gets wiped off? If you have a long sleeve on, try to use the underside of your wrist to hold on. If not, pull out a little sanitizing wipe and use that. I know I must sound like a germaphobe, but it sure beats getting sick. Save the wipe to use later on as you are going through the security. The bins that you pick up to put your personal items in have been handled by thousands, and they definitely don't get disinfected. At first I thought people would think I was weird or something, but instead many have said, "that's a good idea, I'm going to do that." Just drop the wipe into the bin, and it is there for you to use once it comes through the x-ray machine.

Taking off your shoes to walk through the scanner has also been something to my dislike. When all of the security procedures changed we had to start taking off our shoes. I thought how nasty. There should be a study done on the rise of foot infections to see how easily germs are spread. Only one airport, at least here on the West Coast, offers foot covers like they use in surgery. I think that is a responsible act on their part. You could also have a pair of cotton socks to slip on if you have bare feet. I know this probably will make you say I'm a bit of a nut, but who wants someone else's foot fungus? Not me.

Once you are on the plane, take out another wipe to use on the arm- rests, tray table and headrest of the seat. If possible, use your own neck pillow, or if you don't have room for one, and need to rest your head, turn the cover on the airplane pillow inside out. Dress warm or bring something of your own to throw over yourself instead of using airplane blankets that don't get laundered after every use.

The alcohol-based solutions come in both convenient small bottles and throw-away wipes, so keep some handy in your bag or pocket. The busy travel season is quickly approaching, along with the cold and flu season, so it is in your best interests to take some action to prevent getting sick. Many people get sick right after they travel, so it is in your family's best interest to take a few precautions.

Same should apply for your car. Take a few minutes to wipe down door handles, steering wheel and transmission handle. I pull out my wipes when using a rental car. Washing and vacuuming the car are done after each use, but I doubt that they use any type of disinfectant to wipe down the areas that hundreds of hands have touched.

Take a few minutes to think about the areas of your dental office that should be wiped down regularly. Cupboard doors in treatment rooms and sterilization areas, doors and handles of bathrooms and staff lounge, and even the refrigerator handle. Take more precaution in your office lab too. That area of your office sometimes gets overlooked. Please make sure that whitening trays are disinfected before putting in the protective container that goes to the patient, and please don't put them back on the models.

You can just use a little bleach and water in a baggie, shake for a minute, then rinse thoroughly with water.

Take a few minutes with your team members to discuss some preventive measures you can all take to help decrease the spread of germs. It is usually a stressful day when someone calls in sick in the office, so maybe taking a few minutes to wipe down areas besides in the operatory will help prevent this.

I wish you all a Happy, Safe and Germ-Free Holiday Season.

Until next time,


Victoria L. Wallace, CDA, RDA, has a varied dental assisting career that includes general dentistry, cosmetic/esthetic dentistry, lecturing and consulting. Currently she is Western U.S. University Relations Manager for Ultradent Products, Inc., and an independent practice organizer for dentists starting their own practices. Ms. Wallace is President of the Nevada Dental Assistants Association and a director of the ADAA Foundation.
COPYRIGHT 2006 American Dental Assistants Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Wallace, Victoria L.
Publication:The Dental Assistant
Date:Nov 1, 2006
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