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Int Dent J. 1998 Aug;48(4):359-68.

Microbial contamination of dental unit waterlines: the scientific argument.

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King's College Dental Institute, London, UK.


The quality of dental unit water is of considerable importance since patients and dental staff are regularly exposed to water and aerosols generated from the dental unit. The unique feature of dental chair water lines is the capacity for rapid development of a biofilm on the dental water supply lines combined with the generation of potentially contaminated aerosols. The biofilm, which is derived from bacteria in the incoming water and is intrinsically resistant to most biocides, then becomes the primary reservoir for continued contamination of the system. Dental water may become heavily contaminated with opportunistic respiratory pathogens such as Legionella and Mycobacterium spp. The significance of such exposure to patients and the dental team is discussed. There is at the present time, no evidence of a widespread public health problem from exposure to dental unit water. Nevertheless, the goal of infection control is to minimise the risk from exposure to potential pathogens and to create a safe working environment in which to treat patients. This paper evaluates the range of currently available infection control methods and prevention strategies which are designed to reduce the impact of the biofilm on dental water contamination, and are suitable for use in general practice. Bacterial load in dental unit water can be kept at or below recommended guidelines for drinking water (less than 200 colony forming units/ml) using a combination of readily available measures and strict adherence to maintenance protocols. Sterile water should be employed for all surgical treatments.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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