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In 2003, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published updated recommendations for dental infection control. Developed in collaboration with authorities on infection control from the CDC and other public agencies, academia, and private and professional organizations, "Guidelines for Infection Control in Dental Health-Care Settings - 2003" consolidates and expands previous CDC recommendations and incorporates the infection-control provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Bloodborne Pathogens Standard. Since the 2003 CDC document, the CDC published in 2016 the "Summary of Infection Prevention Practices in Dental Settings: Basic Expectations for Safe Care." This document summarizes the information published in the 2003 guidelines and represents infection preventions strategizes for safe dental care. The summary also includes additional topics and information relevant to dental infection control and prevention published since the 2003 document. The summary includes topics and information related to infection prevention program administrative measures such as:
• Respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette
• Updated safe injection practices
• Administrative measures for instrument processing
This document also summarizes current infection prevention recommendations and includes a checklist that can be used to evaluate compliance. The information presented here is based primarily upon the previously published 2003 guideline (see below) and CDC Summary which represents infection prevention expectations for safe care in dental settings.
Each recommendation in the 2003 document is categorized on the basis of existing scientific data, theoretical rationale, and applicability. The CDC category designations, as described below, accompany each recommendation cited in this course.
Category IA recommendations are strongly recommended for implementation and strongly supported by well-designed experimental, clinical, or epidemiologic studies.
Category IB recommendations are strongly recommended for implementation and supported by experimental, clinical, or epidemiologic studies and a strong theoretical rationale.
Category IC recommendations are required for implementation as mandated by federal or state regulation or standard.* When the "IC" designation is used, a second rating may be included to provide the basis of existing scientific data, theoretical rationale, and applicability.
Category II recommendations are suggested for implementation and supported by suggestive clinical or epidemiologic studies or a theoretical rationale.
* The omission of a Category IC designation in the CDC document should not be construed as a definitive absence of regulations. Always check with state and local authorities to ensure compliance with all laws that apply in your area.
The 2003 CDC guidelines address educating and protecting dental healthcare personnel; preventing transmission of bloodborne pathogens (including postexposure management); hand hygiene; personal protective equipment; contact dermatitis and latex hypersensitivity; sterilization and disinfection of patient-care items; environmental infection control (encompassing operatory surface management and medical waste); dental unit waterlines, biofilm, and water quality; dental handpieces and other devices that attach to dental unit airlines and waterlines; radiology; aseptic technique for parenteral medications; disposable devices; oral surgical procedures; handling biopsy specimens; infection control for the dental laboratory; tuberculosis in dentistry; and program evaluation. The document also discusses preprocedural mouth rinses, laser/electrosurgery plumes and surgical smoke, and prion diseases such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. However, because of insufficient scientific evidence or lack of consensus regarding the efficacy of potential interventions, CDC currently designates these topics as "unresolved issues" and provides no recommendations. As such, these areas of the 2003 guidelines are not covered in this course.
Although this course provides an overview of current CDC recommendations for minimizing the potential for disease transmission during the delivery of dental care, all dental healthcare personnel are encouraged to review the complete guidelines and the summary. It includes a wealth of valuable background information and references that promote understanding the need for a comprehensive dental infection control program. "Guidelines for Infection Control in Dental Health-Care Settings - 2003" is available free of charge and in its entirety through the CDC website: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5217a1.htm. The "summary of Infection Prevention Practices in Dental Settings: Basic Expectations for Safe Care" is available free of charge through the CDC website: https://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/infectioncontrol/pdf/safe-care2.pdf
Overview of Regulatory Agency Roles in Dental Infection Control
A number of federal agencies play important roles in dental infection control, either directly or indirectly.
One of 13 branches of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the nation's premier public health agency. As part of its mission to prevent and control infectious and chronic diseases, injuries, workplace hazards, and environmental health threats, CDC's infection control guidelines seek to protect both healthcare providers and the patients they treat. Although CDC has no regulatory authority, its infection control recommendations are considered a standard of care and have been adopted by some state dental boards.
While CDC is concerned with public health (that is, the health of patients, healthcare providers, and the population at large), OSHA's purview is limited to worker safety.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 serves to protect the safety and health of America's workers by establishing and enforcing legal standards that encourage occupational safety and health. All employers and their employees within the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and other U.S. territories must comply with OSHA regulations (under federal OSHA or under their OSHA-approved state job safety and health plan). Failure to comply can result in monetary penalties or even jail time.
Published in 1991 and updated in 2001, the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens Standard requires employers to adopt practices and procedures that it deems reasonably necessary and appropriate to protect workers against occupational exposure to blood or other potentially infectious materials. The agency's enforcement procedures for this standard are outlined in a directive published in November 2001 (for details, visit http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=DIRECTIVES&p_id=2570)
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) do not establish guidelines for dental workers per se, these agencies regulate many of the products and procedures used to promote health and safety.
The FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) is charged with regulating medical devices - that is, those products used by healthcare professionals in the delivery of medical or dental care. Infection control products such as gloves, face masks, safety syringes, sharps containers, sterilizers, waterline cleaners and other contamination-control devices, and automated instrument cleaners are all classified as medical devices. FDA's CDRH also must approve for market any chemical sterilant/high-level disinfectant made commercially available in the United States. FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research assesses and approves vaccines as well as the drugs used in postexposure prophylaxis.
The EPA registers commercially available intermediate- and low-level disinfectants used on environmental surfaces as well as the chemical disinfectants for managing contamination in dental unit waterlines. Furthermore, the EPA issues guidelines and regulations for proper management of solid and hazardous wastes under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). It assigns "cradle to grave" responsibility to generators of hazardous waste, including dental offices.
Principles of Disease Transmission
The nature of many dental procedures can place dental team members and patients in close contact with potential pathogens, especially those found in blood. Diseases can be transmitted from the patient to the dental worker, from the dental worker to the patient, or from one patient to another. In the dental setting, possible modes of transmission include:
• indirect contact with contaminated objects (such as instruments, equipment, environmental surfaces, or a team member's contaminated hands);
• droplet contact, in which spray or spatter containing microorganisms travels a short distance before settling on the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, or mouth; and
• inhalation of evaporated microorganisms ("droplet nuclei") that can remain airborne for extended periods of time as aerosols.
For a disease to be transmitted, a number of conditions must be met, referred to as the "chain of infection":
• The pathogen must have a reservoir where it can reside and multiply. The bloodstream, mucous membranes, a laboratory culture, and a dental unit waterline are all examples of potential reservoirs for microorganisms.
• The pathogen must have a mode of transmission from a source host. A needlestick, a splash to the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, or mouth, or inhalation of contaminated aerosols are examples of various modes of transmission.
• The pathogen must have a proper portal of entry into a new host. For example, for a bloodborne pathogen to cause infection in a new host, it must have a way to enter the bloodstream, such as through a break in the skin.
• The new host must be susceptible to the pathogen. If the individual is vaccinated against or has had prior exposure to the pathogen that resulted in immunity, exposure will not result in disease.
Infection control involves breaking one or more links in the chain.
The concept of "universal" precautions has been a cornerstone of dental infection control since the mid-1980s. Encompassing a set of infection control and safety procedures intended to protect against bloodborne disease transmission, universal precautions included handwashing, the use of Personal Protective Equipment (gloves, eyewear, face protection, protective apparel), controls to prevent injuries, and proper handling of patient-care items and contaminated surfaces. As the word "universal" suggests, the precautions were applied when treating all patients, regardless of their health history or presumed risk of bloodborne disease.
Although OSHA's Blood borne Pathogens Standard still refers to universal precautions, in 1996, the CDC changed its focus from universal precautions to "standard precautions." Intended to further reduce the risk of healthcare-associated infections, standard precautions expands the idea of which fluids are considered infectious. According to the CDC Summary "Standard Precautions are the minimum infection practices that apply to all patient care, regardless of suspected or confirmed infection status of the patient, in any setting where health care is delivered. These practices are designed to both protect DHCP and prevent DHCP from spreading infections among patients." While universal precautions mainly prevent exposure to blood, standard precautions guard against exposure to all body fluids, secretions, and excretions, regardless of whether they contain blood. (The exception is sweat, which is not infectious.)
As explained in From Policy to Practice: OSAP's Guide to the 2004 Guidelines, "For in-patient settings like hospitals, standard precautions expanded the set of infection control procedures required for safe patient care. In routine dentistry, however, there is little practical difference between universal precautions and standard precautions. All the precautions traditionally used to protect against blood and blood-contaminated saliva also protect against exposure to any other fluids that would typically be encountered in the dental setting."
For patients who present diseases that are transmitted through airborne, droplet, or contact transmission, standard precautions should be coupled with expanded or transmission-based precautions. To protect against diseases such as tuberculosis, influenza, or chickenpox, necessary transmission-based precautions might include patient placement (isolation), adequate room ventilation, enhanced respiratory protection (N95 respirators) for team members, or postponement of non-emergency dental procedures. Although patients who are acutely ill with these diseases typically do not seek routine outpatient dental care, dental team members should have a general understanding of precautions for diseases transmitted by all routes. Hospital-based dental team members may be called upon to treat such patients; patients infected with these diseases also may show up at outpatient dental facilities for emergency dental care.
CDC Guidelines for Infection Control in Dental Healthcare Settings
In addition to vaccination, CDC considers engineering controls to be the healthcare professional's primary means of preventing or reducing exposure to blood and body fluids. Engineering controls rely on the device's technology (rather than the user's technique) to reduce the potential for injuries that could result in disease transmission. Instrument cassettes, which minimize handling of contaminated instruments during processing, are an example of an engineering control. Automated instrument cleaners are another example.
Where engineering controls are not available or appropriate, work-practice controls and use of personal protective equipment (PPE) become even more important in preventing exposure to blood and body fluids. Always perform tasks in the safest way possible. Passing instruments with sharp ends pointed away from all bodies and using a one-handed "scoop" technique or a mechanical device designed for holding the needle cap when recapping needles between injections are examples of work practice controls. Furthermore, dental team members should always use task-appropriate gloves, face protection, eye protection, and protective apparel to provide a physical barrier between themselves and the patient.
Dental practices should develop a written infection-control program to prevent or reduce the risk of disease transmission. The program should outline the policies, procedures, practices, technologies, and products used to prevent occupational injuries and illnesses among dental team members as well as healthcare-associated infections among patients.
Personnel health elements of an infection control program
As part of a dental facility's comprehensive infection control program, CDC encourages all practice settings to incorporate a plan for team-member health in the work setting. Such a plan should educate staff on the principles of infection control, identify work-related infection risks, institute preventive measures, and ensure prompt exposure management and medical follow-up. At least one person among the staff should be appointed to serve as the Infection Control Coordinator. The Infection Control Coordinator maintains, manages and assess the infection control program. The infection prevention policies and procedures should be reviewed at least annually or according to state and federal guidelines or requirements.
The practice setting should establish a working relationship with a qualified healthcare professional/facility to provide dental team members with appropriate occupational health services like vaccinations (hepatitis B, influenza, measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, and varicella-zoster) and post-exposure evaluation and management. To ensure timely management of injuries and exposures, such an arrangement should be set up before team members are placed at risk for exposure. "Qualified healthcare professionals" can be found in an occupational health program of a hospital, in educational institutions, or with healthcare facilities that offer personnel health services. Check with the State Department of Health for required and recommended vaccinations (Table 1).
CDC's administrative recommendations for personnel health elements of an infection control program are listed in Table 2.
Preventing occupational transmission of bloodborne pathogens
Dental team members work in close contact with blood and blood-contaminated saliva, putting them at risk of exposure to bloodborne pathogens such as hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Vaccination. Vaccination can protect against the hepatitis B virus, but only if it results in seroconversion (development of antibodies). As such, CDC recommendations and OSHA requires dental settings to:
• Always follow U.S. Public Health Service/CDC recommendations for hepatitis B vaccination, serologic testing, follow-up, and booster dosing (IA, IC).
• Test dental healthcare personnel for antibodies one to two months after completion of the three-dose HBV vaccination series (IA, IC). If antibodies are present, the team member is immune. If no antibody response occurs to the primary vaccine series:
o At the completion of the second vaccine series, retest for antibodies. If no response to the second three-dose series occurs, the non-responder should be tested to determine if he/she is a carrier (IC).
o Counsel non-responders who are not carriers about their susceptibility to HBV infection and precautions they need to take (IA, IC).
Exposure Prevention. CDC recommends the following general precautions for preventing exposures to bloodborne pathogens:
• Consider any sharp item (such as needles, scalers, burs, lab knives, and wires) that is contaminated with patient blood and saliva to be potentially infective, and establish engineering controls and work practices to prevent injuries (IB, IC).
• In addition, CDC strongly supports the use of several specific engineering and work-practice controls. Practice settings should:
• Identify, evaluate, and select devices with engineered safety features at least annually and as they become available on the market. Such devices include safer anesthetic syringes, blunt suture needles, retractable scalpels, and needleless IV systems (IC).
• Place used disposable syringes and needles, scalpel blades, and other sharp items in appropriate puncture-resistant containers. Sharps containers should be located as close to the sharps' point of use as possible (IA, IC).
• Avoid using both hands to recap used needles. Likewise, steer clear of any other technique that involves directing the sharp end of a needle toward any part of the body. Do not bend, break, or remove needles before disposal (IA, IC).
• Use either a one-handed scoop technique or a mechanical device designed for holding the needle cap when recapping needles between multiple injections or before removing from a nondisposable aspirating syringe (IA, IC).
Post-exposure Management and Prophylaxis. Although infection control precautions are highly effective when used routinely, accidents can happen. When sharps injuries or unexpected spills or splashes to nonintact skin or mucosa occur, tend to them immediately. Exposure incidents are medical emergencies. Ensuring prompt evaluation and treatment gives the occupationally exposed team member the best chance of avoiding infection.
When an exposure occurs:
• First perform basic first aid to cleanse the wound or affected area.
• Then report the injury to the employer or infection control coordinator for the practice setting. Providing as much information as possible about the incident will help the physician or other qualified healthcare professional evaluate and manage the exposure.
• Follow instructions for obtaining IMMEDIATE and APPROPRIATE medical care from the healthcare professional who handles the facility's occupational health program.
Proper handwashing, hand antisepsis, or surgical hand antisepsis are simple acts that help reduce the risk of disease transmission. Transient microorganisms can come to rest on the hands following direct contact with patients or contaminated environmental surfaces. These microorganisms, which colonize the top layers of the skin, are most frequently associated with healthcare-acquired infections. Fortunately they generally can be removed with routine handwashing.
Lapses in hand hygiene among hospital workers have resulted in major disease outbreaks, numerous healthcare-associated infections, and the spread of antibiotic-resistant infections.
Alcohol-based hand rubs have been gaining popularity in hospital dental settings. These agents provide persistent antimicrobial activity on the skin and can be very useful in certain circumstances (for example, during boil-water advisories, when providing humanitarian aid in remote areas without a clean water supply). These agents are not recommended for routine hand hygiene as they are not effective cleaners. As such, the CDC recommends:
• The soap used can be either antimicrobial, or nonantimicrobial. If hands are not visibly soiled, either hand washing scenario will do or, in this case, an alcohol-based hand rub can also be used. Follow the manufacturer's instructions (IA).
Indications for hand hygiene include:
• when hands are visibly soiled (IA, IC);
• after barehanded touching of inanimate objects likely to be contaminated by blood, saliva, or respiratory secretions (IA, IC);
• before and after treating each patient (IB);
• before donning gloves (IB); and
• immediately after removing gloves (IB, IC).
The CDC recommends the following steps to properly wash hands:
2. Rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails using a nail stick.
3. Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. As a 20 second timer, sing "Happy Birthday" or "Mary Had a Little Lamb" twice to the end.
4. Rinse your hands well under running water.
5. Dry hands using a disposable towels. Avoid the use of multiple, hanging or roll type cloth towels clean towel or allow them to air dry.
Complete guidance on how and when hand hygiene should be performed, including surgical hand antisepsis and artificial nails can be found in the Guidelines for Hand Hygiene in Health-Care Settings (https://www.cdc.gov/handhygiene/index.html). Accessed October 2, 2017. The World Health Organization (WHO) created a poster to show hand washing recommendations. See Appendix 2.
To reduce the risk of postoperative infections, oral surgical procedures require more stringent hand-hygiene measures that incorporate the use of an antimicrobial agent.
• For oral surgical procedures, perform surgical hand antisepsis before donning sterile surgeon's gloves. Follow the manufacturer's instructions by using either a.) an antimicrobial soap and water handwash, or b.) a soap and water handwash followed by drying of the hands and application of an alcohol-based surgical hand-scrub product with persistent activity (IB).
To prevent contamination of hand-hygiene products:
• Store liquid hand-care products in either disposable closed containers or closed containers that can be washed and dried before refilling. Do not add soap or lotion to (i.e., top off) a partially empty dispenser (IA). Studies have found that bacteria grow on the layer between the old and new product.
Frequent handwashing can compromise the skin's integrity. Because breaks in the skin can provide a portal of entry for bloodborne pathogens:
• Some emollients and antiseptics can degrade glove material. As such, CDC encourages dental team members to consider the compatibility of lotion and antiseptic products as well as the effect of petroleum or other oil emollients on the integrity of gloves during product selection and glove use (IB).
Other recommendations for hand hygiene include:
• Do not wear artificial fingernails or extenders when having direct contact with patients at high risk (e.g., those in intensive care units or operating rooms) (IA). In fact, the use of artificial fingernails is usually not recommended (II).
• Avoid wearing hand or nail jewelry if it makes donning gloves more difficult or if it compromises the fit and integrity of the glove (II).
Personal protective equipment
As part of standard precautions, dental team members who are at risk of exposure to potentially infectious materials must wear task-appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). The dental employer is responsible for supplying all PPE. The PPE that is chosen should fit well and be as comfortable as possible. Should the wearer develop any sensitivity or allergy, the employer must provide options.
Masks, Protective Eyewear, and Face Shields. To protect the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, and mouth:
• Change masks between patients or during patient treatment if the mask becomes wet (IB).
• Clean reusable facial protective equipment (protective eyewear or face shields) with soap and water between patients. If visibly soiled, clean and disinfect (II).
Protective Clothing. Protective garments are worn over street clothes to protect them from contamination.
• Wear protective clothing that covers personal clothing and skin likely to be soiled with blood, saliva, or other potentially infectious materials (IB, IC). Protective clothing can include a reusable or disposable gown, laboratory coat, or uniform. For dental procedures that generate spatter, ensure that forearms are covered.
• OSHA does require employers to launder any reusable PPE such as employee uniforms. Contaminated laundry should be handled as little as possible. Contaminated laundry should be placed and transported in bags or containers labeled or color-coded as hazardous. Standard precautions must be followed while handling contaminated clothing, including the use of protective gloves and other appropriate PPE should be worn. If the office utilizes an off-site facility, the laundry must be placed in marked bags or containers or labeled with a biohazard symbol so the laundry facility knows to use standard precautions.
• Change protective clothing if visibly soiled. Change the garment immediately (or as soon as feasible) if is penetrated by blood or other potentially infectious fluids (IB, IC).
Gloves. Patient-care, sterile surgical, and utility gloves are offered in a variety of sizes, colors, and materials.
• Wear patient-care gloves when a potential exists for contacting blood, saliva, other potentially infectious materials, or mucous membranes (IB, IC).
• Wear a new pair of patient-care gloves for each patient, remove them promptly after use, and wash hands immediately to avoid transfer of microorganisms to other patients or environments (IB).
• Wear sterile surgeon's gloves when performing oral surgical procedures (IB).
• Remove gloves that are torn, cut, or punctured as soon as feasible. Wash hands before regloving (IB, IC).
• Never wash surgeon's or patient-care gloves before use. Never wash, disinfect, or sterilize gloves for reuse (IB, IC).
• Ensure that appropriate gloves in the correct sizes are readily accessible (IC).
• Use appropriate puncture- and chemical-resistant utility gloves when cleaning instruments and performing housekeeping tasks that involve contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials (IB, IC).
• Consult with glove manufacturers regarding the chemical compatibility of glove material and dental materials used (II).
The CDC examined the issue of double-gloving for oral surgical procedures. Although the majority of studies show a lower frequency of inner glove perforation and visible blood on a surgeon's hands when double gloves are worn, the effectiveness of wearing two pairs of gloves in preventing disease transmission has not been demonstrated. As such, the agency makes no recommendation for or against the practice of double-gloving.
To limit the spread of contamination from PPE:
Remove barrier protection, including gloves, mask, eyewear, and gown before leaving the work area (IC). Work areas include operatories, instrument processing areas, and laboratories. The type of glove worn is dependent on what the task you are preforming:
• Sterile disposable gloves (surgical gloves) are utilized when sterility is necessary. Such as surgical procedures.
• Chemical resistant, puncture proof utility gloves are utilized for cleaning, instruments, equipment and contaminated surfaces. Please note that household gloves must not be used unless they are puncture proof.
Contact dermatitis and latex hypersensitivity
The benefits of gloving and handwashing are undeniable, but some adverse skin conditions can result from frequent and repeated handwashing, exposure to chemicals, and glove use.
A very common condition among dental workers, irritant contact dermatitis is caused by the physical irritation of the skin. It presents as dry, itchy, irritated skin around the area of contact with the offending agent. Irritant contact dermatitis is not an allergic reaction.
Allergic contact dermatitis (also called type IV hypersensitivity) results from exposure to methacrylate, glutaraldehyde, and chemicals used in rubber manufacturing. It often appears as a rash beginning several hours after contact. It usually is confined to the area of contact but can extend slightly beyond.
True latex hypersensitivity is a potentially life-threatening allergy to the proteins contained in natural rubber latex, a common glove material. Also referred to as a type I immediate allergy, this more serious, systemic allergy typically presents within minutes of exposure but also can occur hours later. More common reactions include runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, scratchy throat, hives, and itchy, burning skin sensations. More severe symptoms include asthma (marked by difficult breathing, coughing spells, and wheezing), cardiovascular and gastrointestinal symptoms, and in rare cases, anaphylaxis. In especially severe reactions that are not medically managed, a type I allergy can result in death.
Any condition that causes cracks or breaks in the skin increases a dental worker's risk of exposure to blood and other body fluids. Furthermore, an unrecognized, untreated type I allergic reaction to latex in a patient or dental team member can result in serious morbidity or mortality. For these reasons, CDC includes the following recommendations in its 2003 guidelines.
• Educate dental healthcare personnel regarding the signs, symptoms, and diagnoses of skin reactions associated with frequent hand hygiene and glove use (IB).
• Screen all patients for latex allergy. Take a thorough health history, and when latex allergy is suspected, refer the patient for medical consultation (IB).
• Ensure a latex-safe environment for patients and dental team members with latex allergy (IB).
• Have emergency treatment kits with latex-free products available at all times (II).
Respiratory hygiene/cough etiquette (new 2016)
The 2016 CDC Summary of Infection Prevention Practices in Dental Settings: Basic Expectations for Safe Care include respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette. This includes the following measures to limit the transmission of respiratory pathogens spread by droplet or airborne. The strategies target both the patient, those accompanying the patient and the DHCP. In addition to the addition to the CDC changes to the 2003 document, respiratory hygiene/cough etiquette measures were also added to Standard Precautions in 2007. Additional information can be found in the 2017 Guidelines for Isolation Precautions (available at: https://www.cdc.gov/infectioncontrol/guidelines/isolation/). Accessed October 2, 2017
The key recommendations include:
• Provide tissues and no-touch receptacles for disposal of tissues.
• Provide resources for hand washing in the reception area (alcohol rub).
• Offer masks to coughing patients and those accompanying them when they enter the office.
• Provide space and encourage persons with respiratory symptoms to sit as far as possible away from others if possible.
• Educate DHCP's on the importance of infectious prevention measures to contain respiratory secretions from spending.
Since a majority of percutaneous injuries (needlesticks, etc.) involve needles and other sharp instruments, the 2016 CDC Summary has included a section on sharps safety. Engineering and work-practice controls are the primary methods to reduce exposures to blood and OPIM from sharp instruments and needles. Engineering controls (e.g., self-sheathing needles, safety scalpels) remove or isolate the hazards; however, when those controls are not appropriate, work-practice controls should be utilized (e.g., one-handed scoop technique).
Key recommendations include:
• DO NOT recap needles by using any method using both hands and any other technique that involves directing the point of the needle toward the body.
• Either use a one-handed scoop technique or a mechanical device designed for holding the needle cap when re-capping.
• Place used disposable syringes and needles, scalpel blades, and other sharps in an appropriate puncture-resistant containers located as close as possible to the area where the items are kept.
Sterilization and disinfection of patient-care items
The CDC categorizes patient-care items based on the degree of contact they have with patients. Their degree of contact with the patient suggests their risk of disease transmission. In turn, their risk of disease transmission indicates how they should be processed for reuse. According to the CDC, manufacturers instructions regarding reprocessing reusable dental instruments and equipment should be readily available. Most single use devices are labeled by the manufacturer for only single use and do not have reprocessing instructions. After use they should be disposed of appropriately. Additional information can be found at: https://www.cdc.gov/infectioncontrol/guidelines/disinfection/index.html. Accessed October 2, 2017.
Critical items cut bone or penetrate soft tissue. These instruments carry the highest risk of disease transmission.
• Clean and heat-sterilize critical dental instruments before each use (IA).
Semicritical items touch only mucous membranes. They have a lower risk of transmission than critical items.
• Clean and heat-sterilize semicritical items before each use (IB).
• Use heat-stable semicritical items instead of those that are heat-sensitive whenever possible (IB).
• For heat-sensitive critical and semicritical instruments, reprocess using FDA-cleared sterilant/high-level disinfectants or an FDA-cleared low-temperature sterilization method (such as ethylene oxide). Follow the manufacturer's instructions for use of chemical sterilants/high-level disinfectants (IB).
• Single-use disposable instruments are acceptable alternatives if they are used only once and disposed of correctly (IB, IC).
Noncritical items only contact intact skin. As such, they have the lowest risk of disease transmission.
• Ensure that noncritical patient-care items are barrier-protected or cleaned (or if visibly soiled, cleaned and disinfected) after each use with an EPA-registered hospital disinfectant. If visibly contaminated with blood, use an EPA-registered hospital disinfectant with a tuberculocidal claim (i.e., an intermediate-level disinfectant) (IB).
With regard to heat sterilization:
• Allow packages to dry in the sterilizer before they are handled to avoid contamination (IB).
• Caution also is required when using chemical sterilants.
• Do not use liquid chemical sterilants/high-level disinfectants for environmental surface disinfection or as holding solutions (IB, IC).
• Inform dental healthcare personnel of all OSHA guidelines for exposure to chemical agents used for disinfection and sterilization. (For more information, review OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard, available to download at https://www.osha.gov/dsg/hazcom/ Accessed October 2, 2017 Identify areas and tasks that have potential for exposure (IC).
The Instrument Processing Area. To limit the spread of contamination, CDC recommends using a separate instrument processing area and further dividing the space into designated "dirty" and "clean" areas.
• Designate a central instrument processing area. Divide the instrument processing area, physically or, at a minimum, spatially, into distinct areas for:
o preparation and packaging;
o sterilization; and
• Do not store sterilized instruments in an area where contaminated instruments are held or cleaned (II).
Receiving, Cleaning, and Decontamination Work Area (The Dirty Side). When collecting, transporting, and cleaning contaminated instruments:
• Use automated cleaning equipment such as an ultrasonic cleaner or instrument washer- disinfector to remove debris, improve cleaning effectiveness, and decrease the potential for team member exposure to blood (IB).
• If manual cleaning is necessary, use work-practice controls that minimize contact with sharp instruments (for example, use a long-handled brush held away from the bristles) (IC).
• Wear puncture- and chemical-resistant/heavy-duty utility gloves for instrument cleaning and decontamination procedures (IB).
• Wear appropriate personal protective equipment when splashing or spraying is anticipated during cleaning. Appropriate equipment would include a mask, protective eyewear, and gown. (IC).
Preparation and Packaging. Although the instruments have been cleaned to remove debris, they are not sterile. Wear puncture-resistant utility gloves when inspecting and packaging instruments.
• Use an internal chemical indicator in each package. If the internal indicator cannot be seen from outside the package, also use an external indicator (II).
• Use a container system or wrapping material that is compatible with the specific type of sterilization process (that is, steam autoclave, chemical vapor, dry heat, or ethylene oxide). Be sure that the packaging has received FDA clearance (IB).
• Before sterilization of critical and semicritical items, inspect the instruments for cleanliness, then wrap or place them in containers that will allow them to remain sterile during storage. Cassettes and organizing trays are appropriate for this purpose (IA).
Sterilization of Unwrapped Instruments. Immediate-use steam sterilization, formerly known as "flash" sterilization, when performed correctly and when deemed appropriate, is an effective way to sterilize critical devices. However, the steps must be followed exactly and there is no margin for error. Improper technique can lead to process failure and cross contamination.
Because they do not remain sterilized after the cycle like wrapped instruments, CDC discourages the use of "flash" cycles for routine instrument processing.
• Do not sterilize implantable devices unwrapped (IB).
• Do not store critical instruments unwrapped (IB).
However, immediate-use steam sterilization cycles may be warranted when there is an urgent need for an instrument that will be used immediately after the cycle (for example, the instrument is dropped during treatment and no replacement is available). As such, CDC suggests the following steps to assuring sterility.
• Clean and dry instruments before using a sterilization cycle designated for "unwrapped" instruments (IB).
• Use mechanical and chemical indicators for each unwrapped sterilization cycle. Place an internal chemical indicator among the instruments or items to be sterilized (IB), and monitor cycle time and temperature during the sterilization sequence.
• Allow unwrapped instruments to dry and cool in the sterilizer before they are handled to avoid contamination and thermal injury (II).
• Semicritical instruments that will be used immediately or within a short time can be sterilized unwrapped on a tray or in a container system, provided that the instruments are handled aseptically during removal from the sterilizer and transport to the point of use (II).
• Critical instruments intended for immediate reuse can be sterilized unwrapped if the instruments remain sterile during removal from the sterilizer and transport to the point of use (for example, transported in a sterile covered container) (IB).
Sterilization Monitoring. Proper monitoring of sterilization processes involves the use of mechanical techniques, chemical indicators, and biological indicators (spore tests). While biological monitoring provides the best assurance that sterilization equipment and procedures are working as they should, mechanical or chemical monitoring may provide the first indications of a sterilizer malfunction.
• Use mechanical, chemical, and biological monitors according to the manufacturer's instructions to ensure the effectiveness of the sterilization process (IB).
• Monitor each load with mechanical (time, temperature, pressure) and chemical indicators (II).
• Place a chemical indicator on the inside of each package. If the internal indicator is not visible from the outside, also place an exterior chemical indicator on the package (II).
• Place items/packages correctly and loosely into the sterilizer so as not to impede penetration of the sterilant (IB).
• Do not use instrument packs if mechanical or chemical indicators indicate inadequate processing (IB).
• Monitor sterilizers at least weekly by using a biological indicator with a matching control (i.e., biological indicator and control from same lot number) (IB).
• Use a biological indicator for every sterilizer load that contains an implantable device. Verify results before using the implantable device, whenever possible (IB).
• Maintain sterilization records (mechanical, chemical, and biological) in compliance with state and local regulations (IB).
1. Remove the sterilizer from service and review sterilization procedures (for example, work practices and use of mechanical and chemical indicators) to determine whether operator error could be responsible (II).
2. Retest the sterilizer by using biological, mechanical, and chemical indicators after correcting any identified procedural problems (II).
• If the repeat spore test is positive, do not use the sterilizer until it has been inspected or repaired, or until the exact reason for the positive test has been determined. Recall, to the extent possible, and reprocess all items that had been run through the sterilizer since the last negative spore test. Before placing the sterilizer back in service, rechallenge the sterilizer with biological indicator tests in (3) three consecutive empty chamber sterilization cycles after the cause of the sterilizer failure has been determined and corrected (II).
Storage Area for Sterilized Items and Clean Dental Supplies (The Clean Side). Store sterile instrument packs to maintain sterility until they are needed.
• Use either date- or event-related shelf-life for storage of wrapped, sterilized instruments, and devices (IB).
• At a minimum, place the date of sterilization and identify the sterilizer used (if multiple sterilizers are used in the facility) on the outside of the packaging material. This facilitates the retrieval of processed items in the event of a sterilization failure (IB).
• Store sterile items and dental supplies in covered or closed cabinets, if possible (II).
• Examine wrapped packages of sterilized instruments before opening them at chairside to ensure the barrier wrap has not been compromised during storage (II).
• If packaging material has been compromised (that is, if it is torn, punctured, wet, or open), reclean, repack, and resterilize any instruments that were inside (II).
Environmental infection control
Environmental infection control encompasses two main themes: managing contaminated surfaces and proper handling and disposal of medical waste.
Surface Management. Environmental surfaces in the dental operatory-surfaces of equipment, furniture, walls, and flooring-are all considered noncritical. Because they carry the lowest risk of disease transmission, they can be managed using methods that are less rigorous than those used for patient-care items.
Environmental surfaces are further categorized as either clinical contact surfaces or housekeeping surfaces. Clinical contact surfaces are those surfaces that are directly contacted by contaminated instruments, devices, hands, or gloves. Housekeeping surfaces are not directly touched during the delivery of dental care.
To manage operatory surfaces, barrier-protection or intermediate- or low-level disinfection is used.
Low-level disinfectants (designated by EPA as "hospital disinfectants") kill the test microorganisms Salmonella choleraesuis, Staphylococcus aureus, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. For clinical contact surfaces, efficacy against hepatitis B virus (HBV) and HIV also is desirable. These disinfectants are used for cleaning and disinfecting clinical contact surfaces that are not visibly soiled with body fluids.
Intermediate-level disinfectants kill the same test microorganisms as low-level (hospital) disinfectants but they also are tuberculocidal (that is, they inactivate Mycobacterium tuberculosis). These agents are used for cleaning and disinfecting clinical contact surfaces with or without visible blood or body fluids.
The CDC offers these general guidelines for managing environmental surfaces:
• Never use liquid chemical sterilants/high-level disinfectants for disinfection of environmental surfaces (IB, IC). (Some of these agents present a respiratory hazard and should not be used outside of a closed container.)
• Wear appropriate personal protective equipment when cleaning and disinfecting environmental surfaces. Such equipment may include puncture- and chemical-resistant utility gloves; a protective gown, jacket, or lab coat; and protective eyewear or face shield worn with a mask (IC).
For maintaining clinical contact surfaces:
• After each patient, clean and disinfect clinical contact surfaces that are not barrier-protected. Use an EPA-registered hospital disinfectant with low- to intermediate-level activity. Use an intermediate-level disinfectant if visibly contaminated with blood (IB).
For periodic maintenance of housekeeping surfaces:
• Clean mops and cloths after use and allow them to dry before reuse. Alternatively, use single-use, disposable mop heads or cloths (II).
• Prepare fresh cleaning or EPA-registered disinfecting solutions daily and as instructed by the manufacturer (II).
• Clean walls, blinds, and window curtains in patient-care areas when they are visibly dusty or soiled (II).
For managing spills of blood and body substances:
Carpet and cloth furnishings provide an ideal breeding ground for microorganisms. These surfaces also are more difficult to clean than nonporous surfaces. As such, CDC recommends that dental facilities:
Regulated Medical Waste. Although any item that has been in contact with blood or body fluids may be infective, not all such waste requires special disposal. Federal, state, and local guidelines and regulations identify the specific categories of medical waste that are subject to regulation - that is, which categories of waste require special disposal by law. They also outline any requirements associated with treatment and disposal.
Examples of regulated waste found in a dental office include solid waste that is soaked or saturated with blood or body fluids (for example, gauze saturated with blood following surgery), extracted teeth as well as surgically removed hard and soft tissues, and contaminated sharp items such as needles, scalpel blades, and orthodontic wires.
Consult waste management regulations, and:
• Ensure that dental team members who handle and dispose of regulated medical waste are trained in appropriate handling and disposal methods. Make sure they understand the possible health and safety hazards (IC).
From Policy to Practice: OSAP's Guide to the Guidelines describes management of regulated medical waste in the dental facility as a matter of "divide and conquer."
• Use a color-coded or labeled container that prevents leakage (e.g., a biohazard bag) to collect and contain nonsharp regulated medical waste (IC).
• Place sharp items such as needles, scalpel blades, orthodontic bands, broken metal instruments, and burs in a puncture resistant, color-coded, leakproof sharps container. Close the container immediately before removal or replacement to prevent spills and to keep contents from protruding during handling, storage, transport, or shipping (IC).
• In areas served by a sanitary sewer system, pour blood, suctioned fluids, and other liquid waste carefully into the drain (provided local sewage discharge requirements are met and the state considers this an acceptable disposal method). Be sure to wear appropriate PPE to protect against exposures (IC).
Dental unit waterlines, biofilm, and water quality
It is well established the inside surface of dental waterlines served by municipal water supplies becomes colonized with a variety of microorganisms. Bacteria, fungi, and protozoa reside inside a polysaccharide slime layer that protects and feeds them.
Although biofilm can form in all environments that are bathed in water, the narrow-bore of dental tubing and the typical way dental unit water is used in the practice setting further encourages bacterial growth and the development of biofilm. In the output water of untreated dental units, microbial counts can reach as high as 200,000 colony-forming units per milliliter (CFU/ml) within five days of installing new dental unit waterlines, and counts greater than 1,000,000 CFU/ml have been reported.
Dental waterlines hold only a small volume of water, almost all of which is in contact with the interior surfaces of the tubing. This allows any microorganisms present in the water to latch on to the internal surface of the tubing, where they multiply to create a biofilm. Once formed, the biofilm serves as a reservoir that can increase the number of microorganisms in water used for dental treatment.
Although oral flora and human pathogens such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, legionella species, and nontuberculous mycobacterium species have been found in dental water systems, most of the microorganisms in dental unit biofilms are common water bacteria that pose limited threat to persons with healthy immune systems. Regardless, CDC contends that exposing patients or dental members to water "of uncertain microbiological quality ... is inconsistent with accepted infection-control principles."
Dental unit water that remains untreated or unfiltered is likely to contain high numbers of microorganisms. As such, CDC recommends that dental practice settings take steps to improve dental unit water quality. Used and maintained according to the manufacturer's instructions, available technologies (such as self-contained water systems, chemical treatments, and filters) can greatly improve the quality of treatment water.
• Use water that meets EPA regulatory standards for drinking water (i.e., <500 CFU/mL of heterotrophic water bacteria) for routine dental treatment output water (IB, IC).
Dental units can vary greatly in material composition, and some biofilm interventions may not be compatible with all materials in every commercially available dental unit. As such, CDC stresses the importance of obtaining input from the dental unit manufacturer for compatible waterline treatment methods.
• Consult with the dental unit manufacturer for appropriate methods and equipment to maintain the recommended quality of dental water (II).
To ensure that efforts to improve dental unit water quality are working as expected:
• Consult with the dental unit manufacturer on the need for periodic maintenance of antiretraction mechanisms (IB).
Because its effects are only transient, flushing is not a recommended dental water-quality control method. However, briefly flushing lines between patients can help remove contaminants that may have been retracted during treatment.
• After each patient, discharge water and air for at least 20 to 30 seconds from any device that is connected to the dental water system and that enters the patient's mouth. (Such devices include handpieces, ultrasonic scalers, and air/water syringes.) (II).
For additional information on dental unit water quality can be found at https://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/infectioncontrol/questions/dental-unit-water. Accessed October 2, 2017 or https://www.osap.org/search/all.asp?bst=dental+water+lines
Boil-Water Advisories. A boil-water advisory is a public health announcement directing residents to boil tap water before drinking it because the water supply has become unsafe to drink. Advisories are issued when water treatment equipment or processes fails; the public supply tests positive for pathogens or violates the total coliform rule or other standards; the distribution system has been compromised (such as in the case of a water main break) and a health hazard is indicated; or a natural disaster such as a flood, hurricane, or earthquake compromises the public supply.
For dental offices undergoing a boil-water advisory, CDC offers the following counsel:
• Do not use water from the public water system for dental treatment, patient rinsing, or handwashing (IB, IC).
• For handwashing, use antimicrobial-containing products that do not require water (for example, alcohol-based hand rubs). If hands are visibly contaminated, use bottled water, if available, and soap for handwashing. Alternatively, use an antiseptic towelette (IB, IC).
When the boil-water advisory is cancelled, dental practice settings should:
• Disinfect dental waterlines as recommended by the dental unit manufacturer (II).
Dental handpieces and other devices attached to airlines and waterlines
Dental handpieces and other devices that are used in the patient's mouth and attach to dental airlines and waterlines are semicritical instruments and should be processed accordingly.
• Clean and heat-sterilize handpieces and other intraoral instruments that can be removed from the airlines and waterlines of dental units between patients (IB, IC).
• Follow the manufacturer's instructions for cleaning, lubrication, and sterilization of handpieces and other intraoral instruments that can be removed from the airlines and waterlines of dental units (IB).
• Do not surface-disinfect, use liquid chemical sterilants, or use ethylene oxide on handpieces and other intraoral instruments that can be removed from the air and waterlines of dental units (IC).
• It should be noted that in the CDC 2016 summary it states that all dental handpieces and associated attachments, including low speed motors and reusable prophylaxis angles, should always be heat sterilized between patients and not high-level or surface disinfected. Although these devices are considered semicritical, studies have shown their internal surfaces can become contaminated with patient material during use. If they are not heat sterilized, the next patient may be exposed to potentially infectious materials.
Because suctioned fluids can be pulled into the patient's mouth when a seal is created around the saliva ejector:
The activities involved in taking and developing x-ray films provide many opportunities for cross-contamination. All surfaces that contact contaminated x-ray film also become contaminated. Even with digital (filmless) x-rays, clinical contact surfaces such as the keyboard, mouse, sensor cords, and portable x-ray cart can become contaminated.
To limit the spread of contamination during dental radiography procedures:
• Use heat-tolerant or disposable intraoral film-holding and positioning devices whenever possible. Clean and heat-sterilize heat-tolerant devices between patients. At a minimum, high-level disinfect semicritical heat-sensitive devices according to manufacturer's instructions (IB). (see Figure 2 and Figure 3)
• Transport and handle exposed radiographs in an aseptic manner to prevent contamination of developing equipment (II).
CDC recommends the following when using digital radiography sensors:
• Clean and heat-sterilize (or high-level disinfect) semicritical items between patients, even if they were barrier-protected during use. If the item cannot tolerate heat or chemical immersion, at a minimum, use an FDA-cleared barrier during intraoral use, and clean and disinfect with an intermediate-level disinfectant (that is, an EPA-registered hospital disinfectant with tuberculocidal activity) between patients. Consult with the manufacturer for methods of disinfection and sterilization of digital radiology sensors and for protection of associated computer hardware (IB).
Aseptic technique for parenteral medications
Parenteral medications (supplied as single-dose ampules, vials, or prefilled syringes, or in multidose vials for use on more than one patient) and fluid infusion systems (such as IV bags, tubing, and connections) must be safely handled to prevent healthcare-associated infections among patients undergoing conscious sedation.
To limit the potential for contamination and patient-to-patient disease transmission, CDC recommends the following precautions for handling and administering parenteral medications supplied in single-use packaging:
• Use single-dose vials for parenteral medications whenever possible (II).
• Do not combine the leftover contents of single-use vials for later use (IA).
If multidose vials are used:
• Use a sterile device to access a multiple-dose vial and avoid touching the access diaphragm. Both the needle and syringe used to access the multidose vial should be sterile. Never reuse a syringe even if the needle is changed (IA).
• Keep multidose vials away from the immediate patient treatment area to prevent inadvertent contamination by spray or spatter (II).
• Discard the multidose vial if sterility is compromised (IA).
When using fluid infusion and administration sets:
Single-use (disposable) devices
A single-use ("disposable") device should be used on only one patient and then discarded, not cleaned, disinfected, or sterilized for use on another patient. Single-use devices (for example, needles, prophylaxis cups and brushes, and plastic orthodontic brackets) are usually not heat-tolerant and cannot be reliably cleaned.
Some items such as prophylaxis angles, saliva ejectors, high-volume evacuator tips, and air/water syringe tips are now commonly available in disposable form; they should be appropriately discarded after each use. Single-use devices and items for use during oral surgical procedures (for example, cotton rolls, gauze, and irrigating syringes) should be sterile at the time of use.
• Use single-use devices for one patient only and dispose of them appropriately (IC).
The physical construction of devices like burs, endodontic files, and broaches can make cleaning difficult. In addition, deterioration can occur on the cutting surfaces of some of these instruments during processing, raising the potential for instrument breaks during patient treatment. Because burs and endodontic instruments also exhibit signs of wear during normal use, CDC suggests that these items might practically be considered single-use devices.
Oral surgical procedures
For the purpose of its guideline, CDC defines oral surgical procedures as those that involve "the incision, excision, or reflection of tissue that exposes normally sterile areas of the oral cavity." Such procedures include periodontal surgery, apical surgery, implant surgery, and surgical extractions of teeth in which erupted or nonerupted teeth require elevation of the mucoperiosteal flap, removal of bone or a section of tooth, and sometimes suturing.
Because the level of exposure during oral surgical procedures is so great, these procedures pose an increased potential for localized or systemic infection. As such, CDC recommends the use of the following more stringent infection control precautions:
• Wear sterile surgeon's gloves during oral surgical procedures (IB).
• Use sterile saline or sterile water as a coolant/irrigant when performing oral surgical procedures. Because dental unit waterlines cannot deliver sterile water (see above section on "Dental Unit Waterlines, Biofilm, and Water Quality"), use a bulb syringe, single-use disposable products, sterilizable tubing devices, and/or other devices specifically designed for delivering sterile irrigating fluids. (IB)
Handling of biopsy specimens
To protect persons handling and transporting biopsy specimens, CDC recommends that dental team members:
If a biopsy specimen container becomes visibly contaminated:
Extracted teeth that are being disposed of are regulated waste, and they are subject to the containerization and labeling provisions outlined by OSHA's Bloodborne Pathogens Standard. OSHA considers extracted teeth to be a potentially infectious material that should be disposed of in medical waste containers. However, extracted teeth can be returned to patients on request, at which time provisions of the standard no longer apply. Because high temperatures release mercury vapor from dental amalgam, extracted teeth containing this restorative material should not be placed in a medical waste container that uses incineration for final disposal (as sharps containers routinely are). Consult and comply with state and local regulations for proper disposal of the amalgam.
• Dispose of extracted teeth as regulated medical waste. Alternatively, they may be returned to the patient (IC).
• Do not dispose of extracted teeth containing amalgam in regulated medical waste intended for incineration (II).
For extracted teeth sent to an educational setting or to a dental laboratory for shade or size comparisons:
• Heat-sterilize teeth that do not contain amalgam before they are used for educational purposes (IB).
The dental laboratory
Dental prostheses, appliances, and items used in their fabrication (for example, impressions, occlusal rims, and bite registrations) can be sources of cross-contamination, so they should be handled in a manner that prevents exposure of dental team members, patients, or the office environment to infectious agents. Effective communication and coordination between the laboratory and dental practice can ensure that appropriate cleaning and disinfection procedures are performed in the dental office or laboratory, materials are not damaged or distorted because of disinfectant overexposure, and effective disinfection procedures are not unnecessarily duplicated.
In the dental lab:
• Before they are handled in the laboratory, clean, disinfect with an EPA-registered hospital disinfectant with tuberculocidal activity, and rinse all impressions, bite registrations, occlusal rims, extracted teeth, and other dental prostheses and prosthodontic materials (IB).
• Follow manufacturers' instructions for cleaning and sterilizing or disinfecting items that become contaminated but do not normally contact the patient (e.g., burs, polishing points, rag wheels, articulators, case pans, and lathes). If manufacturer instructions are unavailable, clean and heat-sterilize heat-tolerant items or clean and disinfect them with an EPA-registered hospital disinfectant with low- (HIV, HBV effectiveness claim) to intermediate-level (tuberculocidal) activity, depending on the degree of contamination (II).
To ensure that impressions are not compromised from exposure to disinfectant chemicals:
In the dental practice setting:
To ensure good communication between the dental practice and the laboratory:
Tuberculosis and dentistry
Patients infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis occasionally seek urgent dental treatment at outpatient dental settings. Symptoms of active tuberculosis (TB) disease include a productive cough, night sweats, fatigue, malaise, fever, and unexplained weight loss. Although the overall risk of TB transmission in dentistry is likely very low, policies should be in place to help dental team members detect and refer patients with active tuberculosis for immediate medical care.
Recommendations for expanded precautions to prevent transmission of M. tuberculosis and other organisms that can be spread by airborne, droplet, or contact routes have been detailed in other CDC and Hospital Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (HICPAC) guidelines ("Guideline for infection control in health care personnel, 1998"; "Guidelines for Preventing the Transmission of Mycobacterium tuberculosis in Health-Care Settings, 2005" https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5417a1.htm; and Guideline for Isolation Precautions: Preventing Transmission of Infectious Agents in Healthcare Setting 2007"). Follow CDC recommendations for 1) developing, maintaining, and implementing a written TB infection-control plan; 2) managing a patient with suspected or active TB; 3) completing a community risk-assessment to guide employee tuberculin skin tests and follow-up; and 4) managing dental team members with TB disease (IB).
• Follow CDC recommendations for 1) developing, maintaining, and implementing a written TB infection-control plan; 2) managing a patient with suspected or active TB; 3) completing a community risk-assessment to guide employee tuberculin skin tests and follow-up; and 4) managing dental team members with TB disease (IB).
To ensure appropriate patient screening and if necessary, referral:
• Assess each patient for a history of TB as well as symptoms indicative of TB and document findings on the medical history form (IB).
For all dental team members who might have contact with persons with suspected or confirmed active TB:
The following CDC recommendations apply for patients who are known or suspected to have active TB:
• Defer elective dental treatment until the patient is noninfectious (IB) as confirmed by a physician.
• Refer patients requiring urgent dental treatment to a previously identified facility (such as a hospital) with TB engineering controls and a respiratory protection program (IB).
The goal of the dental infection-control program is to provide a safe working environment that reduces the risk of both healthcare-associated infections among patients and occupational exposures among dental team members. Program evaluation offers an opportunity to improve the effectiveness of both the infection-control program and dental-practice protocols. If deficiencies or problems are identified, further steps can be taken to eliminate the problems. Furthermore, routinely evaluating practices and protocols provides a specific time for review and consideration of any newly available technologies that could enhance patient and dental team member safety.
Strategies and tools that dental team members can use to evaluate the facility's infection-control program include periodic observational assessments, checklists to document procedures, and routine review of occupational exposures to bloodborne pathogens.
To ensure that the practice setting's infection control procedures are useful, feasible, ethical, and accurate:
Although the 2003 CDC guidelines provide more detail on dental infection control policies, practice, and procedures than previous documents, the ideas behind them break down to four basic principles for practical infection control.
Take action to stay healthy. An individual must be susceptible for exposure to result in disease transmission. Dental workers who are up to date on recommended vaccinations are not susceptible to these transmissible illnesses and therefore cannot acquire (or transmit) the diseases.
• Get vaccinated against hepatitis B and other vaccine preventable diseases.
• Report occupational injuries and exposures immediately.
• Follow the advice of the medical care provider evaluating your occupational exposure.
Avoid contacting blood/body fluids. A number of potentially serious diseases are spread by blood; other diseases are spread through contact with other body fluids. Because it is impossible to know for certain which patients are infected, avoid direct contact with blood, body fluids, non-intact skin, and mucous membranes. Always use standard precautions - handwashing, personal protective equipment, controls to prevent injuries, and proper management of patient care items and environmental surfaces - and treat every patient as if infectious.
• Wear gloves, protective clothing, and face and eye protection.
• Handle sharps with care.
• Use safety devices as appropriate.
• Use mechanical devices to clean instruments whenever possible.
Limit the spread of contamination. Blood and other patient fluids can be spread by spatter, by touching contaminated supplies and surfaces, or by laying contaminated items down on operatory surfaces. Any contaminated item is a potential exposure source, so by taking care to limit contamination to the greatest extent possible, dental team members limit the risk of exposure to infectious materials and in turn, the potential for disease transmission.
Make objects safe for use. The nature of oral health procedures makes it impossible to completely eliminate contamination. Dental team members must use instruments, activate equipment, and contact the mucous membranes of the patient's oral cavity. As such, properly processing contaminated instruments and surfaces remains an important part of a comprehensive infective control program.
• Know the different decontamination processes.
• Read chemical germicide labels.
• Monitor processes to make sure they are working as they should.
Dental team members who use these guiding principles to direct their workday activities are likely to find that infection control efforts may not be as complex as they seem.
Administrative controls - policies, procedures, and enforcement measures targeted at reducing the risk of occupational exposure to infectious persons; examples include postponing nonemergency treatment of patients suspected of having active tuberculosis.
Aerosols - particles of respirable size (<10 μm) generated by both humans and environmental sources that can remain viable and airborne for extended periods in the indoor environment; commonly generated in dentistry during use of handpieces, ultrasonic scalers, and air/water syringes.
Aseptic - describing the absence of contamination, infectious materials, or agents.
Bacteria - group of one-celled vegetative microorganisms found in nature or in the bodies of plants and animals.
Biofilm - a complex colony of microorganisms, most notably bacteria, that forms on surfaces that are bathed in water.
Biological indicator - device that monitors the sterilization process by using a standardized population of resistant bacterial spores; verifies that all the parameters necessary for sterilization were present; also called "spore test."
Bloodborne disease - an illness transmitted by exposure to pathogens in the blood.
Bloodborne pathogens - disease-producing microorganisms spread by contact with blood or other body fluids contaminated with blood from an infected person; examples include hepatitis B and C viruses, and HIV.
Carrier - an individual, immune or recovered from a disease, who harbors and can transmit the infectious agent.
Chemical indicator - device that monitors the sterilization process by changes in color or form with exposure to one or more sterilizing conditions (e.g., temperature, steam); intended to detect potential sterilization failures due to incorrect packaging, incorrect sterilizer loading, or equipment malfunction.
Clinical contact surface - environmental surfaces that come into direct contact with hands or instruments during patient care; examples include light handles, countertops, and device control switches.
Contamination - presence of microorganisms (usually those capable of causing disease or infection) on living or nonliving surfaces.
Critical - category of medical devices or instruments that cut or otherwise penetrate bone or soft tissues, providing access to the bloodstream or normally sterile tissue; examples include anesthetic needles, surgical burs, and scalpel blades.
Date-related instrument storage - storage practice that distributes sterile instrument packs to chairside on a "first in, first out" basis.
DHCP - Dental Health Care Professional.
Direct contact - physical transfer of microorganisms between an infected or colonized person and a susceptible host.
Disinfection - destruction of most pathogenic and other kinds of microorganisms (but not spores) by physical or chemical means.
Droplet nuclei - microscopic particles (5 microns or less in diameter) formed by the dehydration of airborne droplets containing microorganisms; these particles can remain suspended in the air for long periods of time.
Engineering controls - devices that isolate or remove the risk of exposure to bloodborne pathogens in a workplace; examples include sharps containers, needle recapping devices, and self-sheathing needles.
Environmental surface - surfaces within a dental or medical treatment area that are not directly involved in patient care, such as countertops, drawer handles, floors and walls, and instrument control panels, which may or may not become contaminated during the course of treatment; also see clinical contact surfaces and housekeeping surfaces.
Event-related instrument storage - storage practice that recognizes that a package and its contents should remain sterile until some event causes the item(s) to become contaminated.
Fluid infusion system - system for delivering intravenous fluids to patients; includes IV bags, flowmeter, tubing, and an intravenous catheter.
Flushing - act of running water through waterlines and/or the devices attached to them.
Fomite - an inanimate object (as a keyboard, drawer handle, pen, doorknob, or clothing) that may be contaminated with infectious organisms and serve in their transmission.
Fungi - group of microorganisms that includes yeasts, molds, and mildews and is a source of opportunistic infections for immunocompromised individuals.
Hand hygiene - general term that describes the removal of debris and organic matter from the hands by washing and/or the use of an antiseptic agent.
HBV - see hepatitis B virus.
Heat sterilization - temperature-driven process that destroys all microbial life, including bacterial endospores.
Hepatitis - inflammation of the liver caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites, or toxic reactions to drugs, alcohol, or chemicals; primary symptoms include jaundice and liver enlargement.
Hepatitis B virus - a highly transmissible, bloodborne viral agent that may cause inflammation of and damage to the liver; abbreviated "HBV."
Hepatitis C virus - virus that can cause very serious liver disease (acute and chronic); abbreviated "HCV."
High-level disinfection - process that inactivates vegetative bacteria, mycobacteria, fungi, and viruses but not necessarily high numbers of bacterial spores.
HIV - human immunodeficiency virus; the virus that can cause AIDS.
hospital disinfectant - germicide registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that inactivates the test microbes salmonella choleraesuis, staphylococcus aureus, and pseudomonas aeruginosa; for use on inanimate objects in dental and medical facilities.
Housekeeping surface - environmental surface that is not involved in the direct delivery of dental care but requires regular cleaning to remove soil and dust; examples include floors, sinks, and walls.
Immunization - process through vaccination or natural exposure by which a person becomes protected against a disease.
Indirect contact - contact between a susceptible host and a contaminated object that is not the original source of the contamination; examples of contaminated objects that can contribute to indirect contact include instruments, equipment, surfaces, or a healthcare worker's hands when contaminated with patient materials.
Intermediate-level disinfection - process that inactivates vegetative bacteria, most fungi, mycobacteria, and most viruses but is ineffective against bacterial spores.
Intermediate-level disinfectant - a liquid chemical agent registered by the Environmental Protection Agency as a hospital disinfectant that also has tuberculocidal activity.
Low-level disinfection - process that inactivates most vegetative bacteria, some fungi, and some viruses but does not reliably inactivate resistant microorganisms such as mycobacteria or bacterial spores.
Mode of transmission - means by which pathogens are transferred from a source to a new host.
OPIM - see other potentially infectious materials.
Other potentially infectious materials - Occupational Safety and Health Administration term that refers to body fluids or tissues that (a) may contain bloodborne pathogens (in dentistry, this includes saliva) or (b) are visibly contaminated with blood; abbreviated "OPIM."
Parenteral- taken into the body or administered in a manner other than through the digestive tract, as by intravenous or intramuscular injection
Pathogenic - capable of causing disease in a host.
Patient-care item(s) - instruments and supplies used to provide dental examinations, prophylaxis, or treatment; examples include handpieces, cotton rolls, sutures, and air-water syringes.
Percutaneous injury - an injury that penetrates the skin, such as a needlestick or a cut with a sharp object.
Personal protective equipment - required clothing or devices worn by workers for protection against hazards; in dentistry: masks, gloves, protective apparel, and protective eyewear; abbreviated "PPE."
PPE - see personal protective equipment.
Qualified healthcare professional - a physician or other healthcare professional who has the necessary and current training, expertise, and credentials to provide occupational health and postexposure management care to dental team members.
Standard precautions - practices and procedures that integrate and expand the elements of universal precautions into a standard of care intended to protect healthcare workers and patients from pathogens that can be spread by blood or any other body fluids (except sweat), regardless of whether they contain blood; applies to contact with blood, all body fluids, all body secretions and excretions, nonintact skin, and mucous membranes.
Sterilant - liquid chemical germicide capable of destroying all forms of microbiological life, including high numbers of resistant bacterial spores.
Sterilization - a physical or chemical process that destroys all microorganisms, including spores.
Universal precautions - series of practices and procedures designed to reduce the risk of disease transmission by assuming that all blood and other potentially infectious materials are indeed contaminated with bloodborne pathogens.
Vaccination - inoculation with a vaccine with the intent of producing immunity.
Vaccine - a product administered through needle injections, by mouth, or by aerosol that produces immunity, therefore protecting the body against the disease.
Viruses - submicroscopic organisms that infect cells, possibly causing disease.
Work practice controls - procedures that reduce the likelihood of exposure to infectious materials by altering the manner in which a task is performed; for examples, recapping a needle using the one-handed scoop technique is safer than using two hands.
References and Resources
Bebermeyer RD, Dickinson SK, Thomas LP. Guidelines for Infection Control in Dental Health Care Settings-A Review. Texas Dental Journal 2005;122:1022-1026
Bebermeyer RD, Dickinson SK, Thomas LP. Personnel Health Elements of Infection Control in the Dental Health Care Setting - A Review. Texas Dental Journal 2005;122:1028-1035
CDC. Guidelines for Infection Control in Dental Health-Care Settings - 2003; MMWR 2003;52(No. RR-17) Available at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/PDF/rr/rr5217.pdf. Accessed July 7, 2009.
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About the Authors
Sharon K. Dickinson, CDA, CDPMA, RDA, CRFDA, CPFRDA
Sharon K. Dickinson has been actively involved in the dental profession as a chairside assistant, office administrator, consultant and educator. Professor Dickinson held the position of director of the Dental Assisting Program at the El Paso Community College 1981 until her retirement in 2015. She has continued to be active at the College as an adjunct faculty member in the Continuing Education for Health Department. Professor Dickinson is a federally authorized OSHA Outreach trainer in Occupational Safety and Health for General Industry. With more than 40 years of clinical and practical experience in dentistry, Professor Dickinson speaks and consults extensively on OSHA compliance, infection control, chairside efficiency, communications and ergonomics. In addition Professor Dickinson has published numerous articles.
Richard D. Bebermeyer, DDS, MBA
Richard D. Bebermeyer is Professor Emeritus in the Department of General Practice and Dental Public Health at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Dentistry. He is a general dentist with interest in infection control and prevention in dentistry. Dr. Bebermeyer received his Doctor of Dental Surgery from Washington University in St. Louis, and his Masters in Business Administration from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville.