Steven Cumper gives a guide for infection control best practices.

Dental clinics have to take elaborate measures to minimise infection risk and avoid spreading illness. In a setting where patients have their mouths open for treatment, the potential for infection is greater than in some other medical offices.

This guide will address why infection control in dental offices is so important, what regulations exist to protect dental practices and their patients, sterilisation techniques, and more.

The importance of infection control in dental settings

Preventing illness in dental patients is tricky. In order to receive dental care, patients must lie still with their mouths open for extended periods. If the right measures are not taken, patients are left vulnerable to the spread of infection.

Additionally, the instruments and equipment used by dentists and dental nurses have to be sterilised properly to avoid infection risks. Most dental equipment is not single-use, so proper disinfection and sterilisation techniques are paramount to infection control.

Key guidelines and regulations

The National Health Service (NHS) advises dental practices in the country and provides guidelines for safety, health, and sanitation practices. Some of the important topics that the NHS covers relating to infection control include:

  • Hand hygiene.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Respiratory and cough hygiene.

Hand hygiene

Hand hygiene covers the practice of keeping clean hands, and using hand washes or alcohol-based hand rubs. Soap and water are the gold standard for hand hygiene, followed by patting dry with a single-use towel. The science tells us that frequent, proper hand washing is effective in curbing the spread of microorganisms that carry disease.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Personal protective equipment includes gloves, masks, eye protection, and protective clothing like scrubs and shoes. These items help with infection control by reducing touch points and covering vulnerable areas like eyes, noses, mouths, and skin. Wearing and properly utilising PPE is required by law and protects both you and your patients from the spread of infection.

Respiratory and cough hygiene

Preventing respiratory illnesses is possible by following a few easy steps. Covering the mouth and nose with a tissue when you sneeze or cough is a great start. This allows you to dispose of the tissue right away. Don’t forget to wash your hands!

For patients and staff, keep disposable tissues and easily accessed hand washing stations available.

Sterilising and disinfecting dental instruments and equipment

Instrument reprocessing is a crucial step in infection control. Reusing instruments that have not been properly sterilised can spread illness-causing bacteria and viruses.

Most instruments aren’t meant for just one-time use. Take stethoscopes, for instance—they’re commonly used on every patient. It’s crucial to have proper care and maintenance of stethoscopes since they’re regularly used on different patients, and they need to be thoroughly sterilised to avoid spreading germs from one patient to another.

The NHS provides specific guidelines for decontaminating all of your equipment to minimise infection risk. There are different protocols depending on what equipment you’re working with and how it was contaminated.

The current recommendation is that steam sterilisers are the best option for most items. The instruments and equipment need to first be cleaned, then disinfected, and then can be loaded into the steriliser.

Storage after sterilisation is also important to ensure that the items are not contaminated before their next use. Transparent packaging or clearly labelled containers are good options for keeping track of where the equipment is when needed.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and beyond: navigating essentials for dental nurses

Dental nurses require a number of items to get the job done. This can include personal protective equipment, or PPE, comfortable shoes, and personal medical equipment. These nursing essentials play a crucial role in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of both the nurse and their patients. PPE is especially important, since without it, infection can spread rapidly.

Dental nurses have a duty of care to protect their patients from infection and disease, and PPE is the number one way to fulfil that duty. Properly worn face masks, eye protection, scrubs, closed-toe shoes, and gloves will protect you and your patients from the spread of germs, preventing illness and promoting a safe clinical environment.

Continuous improvement

Regular training is a great way to stay up-to- date on the latest technologies in infection control. You can also use professional development courses to learn about innovations in the field and ways that other professionals like you have found to simplify safety procedures.

Compliance training is a requirement and should be taken seriously to ensure that you have the most current information relevant to the field. Infection control is most effective when everyone on the team is familiar with the latest guidelines and knows how to implement them.

As a dental nurse, it is vital to keep yourself and your patients safe, and that means taking steps to prevent infection. Staying on top of the most recent safety guidelines, using your PPE correctly, and regularly disinfecting and sterilising your equipment will be your ticket to success.

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