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Annie’s Mailbox: Germs at dentist make nurse nervous

Dear Annie: As a registered nurse and a patient who has had many dental procedures, I cringe every time I get into a dentist’s chair. The reason is the overhead light – the one that the hygienist or dentist can adjust and lower. The hygienists and dentists wear gloves, but the gloves protect them, not the patient. They put their gloved hands in patients’ mouths and then reach up and adjust the light as needed, time after time. Their gloved hands transfer bacteria from a patient’s saliva (and sometimes blood) to the light fixture. Then the next patient gets in the chair, and the procedure is repeated.

I don’t see how they can avoid transferring harmful bacteria and viruses from one patient to another unless they clean the light fixture off between every patient. I hope I’m wrong, but I have never seen or heard of this being done.

I learned sterile procedure in nursing school. If they teach sterile procedure to hygienists and dentists, they don’t seem to be using it in my dentist’s office. – NERVOUS PATIENT

DEAR NERVOUS : Relax. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, working with the American Dental Association, has developed recommendations that say all surfaces, including the dental chair, dental light, instrument tray, drawer handles and countertops, should be cleaned and decontaminated. Some offices may cover this equipment with protective covers, which are replaced after each patient. Non-disposable items like dental instruments are cleaned and sterilized between patients, while disposable dental instruments and needles are tossed along with disposable wear, such as gloves.

It’s quite likely that your dentist is doing all of these things before you enter the room, and therefore, you don’t see it. If you have questions about infection control, talk to your dentist or check ADA.org.



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