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J Can Dent Assoc. 1992 May;58(5):377-8, 382-6.

Concerns regarding infection control recommendations for dental practice.

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  • 1Department of Dentistry, Vancouver General Hospital, B.C.


It goes without saying that the members of any professional group are more likely to modify their behavior if they are provided with logical, rational reasons to enact the suggested change. In the mid 1980s, health care providers, including dental personnel, were advised to adopt universal precautions and to alter their infection control habits with minimal justification, apart from the general unease and paranoia surrounding AIDS. Therefore, it is understandable that some practitioners would react with scepticism to the idea that their traditional infection control techniques were less than adequate, while others would overwhelmingly embrace the new recommendations in the misguided belief that personal, patient, staff and family safety would be enhanced. This predictable confusion is epitomized by the dentist who "sterilizes" extraction forceps by immersing them in alcohol for 10 minutes, versus the dentist who wears gloves, mask and disposable gown to conduct a recall examination. And if dentists are perplexed, it is clear that their staffs are equally, if not more confused, since they are exposed to the exaggerated claims and counter claims of sales agents. The microbes encountered in dental practise, apart from the hepatitis B virus, pose no significant risk to dental personnel or their patients, and the danger of hepatitis B transmission is reduced most effectively by vaccination. In reality, the genesis of dentistry's current emphasis on infection control resides entirely with HIV disease. But there is no credible clinical evidence to suggest that HIV infection is transmitted via dental treatment. Indeed, it may be theorized that for such a transmission to occur, the blood stream of the susceptible recipient would have to be invaded directly by a pathogenic inoculum of the virus--an unlikely event in the normal practise of dentistry. Under such circumstances, infection control practises should ignore the danger of HIV transmission, but concentrate on: Sterilization of all surgical and invasive instruments to protect patients from potential cross-infection. All dental staff receiving hepatitis B vaccinations. Dental staff wearing gloves, especially while performing intraoral procedures with blood release, and handling used instruments, to protect them from direct contact with potential pathogens. Working in a clean environment, in which blood spills and splatters are removed mainly for esthetic reasons. Such measures reflect the actual potential for disease transmission, as it exists in dentistry. They are justified and economical, and will be implemented by concerned but knowledgeable dental staff.

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