No Infection

Myth busters for dental assistants: I don't have to follow CDC recommendations

July 16, 2019
There's a whole lot of misinformation out there when it comes to what dental assistants should and should not do in the dental practice. It's up to assistants to inform themselves and bust the myths that circulate.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issues only recommendations. They do not issue laws, and I don’t have to follow their recommendations. Right?


It’s hard for me to believe when I hear dental team members say things like this. They say it like they can pick and choose which laws they’re going to follow, because they don’t want to be bothered with laws. Or, it’s not “what they’ve always done,” so they don’t want to do it.

Pffft, I say. Save it. If someone wants to be recognized as a professional, then they need to act like it and follow the laws that are in place to protect dental teams and patients.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), along with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), are federal policies that contain laws, not suggestions! These are laws that must be followed, no ifs, ands, or buts about it!

It’s true the CDC does not make laws, they make guidelines, and this is where people get confused. What they don’t realize is that their very own state dental boards have picked up these guidelines set forth by the CDC and have written them into their state dental practice acts, thereby making these guidelines into actual laws!

Many states use the CDC’s exact verbiage. Some states make reference to the CDC guidelines. Believe me, if your state doesn’t have these things written into its practice act and someone commits a breach, the team member and the office will be cited for not following CDC guidelines.

The health department

There is also something called the local health department. If you’ve been watching the news lately, you might have noticed that three offices were shut down by the health department in Philadelphia in March. At the end of last year, a dental clinic in Seattle was in the news for being inspected by the health department, which urged patients to be tested for Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV. This office had horrible infection control practices. Yes, just like your local health department can go into a restaurant and cite it or close it down, they can do the same to your dental office.

The CDC will not bust down your office door and issue citations. They leave that to the dental board and health department, both of which do have the power to “bust in” and shut you down. Can your practice afford that?

Where do you go?

Interviewer: How many years have you been a dental assistant?
Assistant: Five years. I’ve had lots of experience!
Interviewer: Where did you last work?
Assistant: I worked for Dr. Somethingorother. That’s why I’m looking for a new position. We were shut down due to infection control violations.
Interviewer: We will call you if we’re interested.

People, there is only one way to practice infection control, and that’s the right way!

• Don’t cut corners.
• Don’t say something is OK because your “doctor is cool like that.”
• Don’t think that infection control is “no big deal,” because it’s a really big deal!
• Don’t cheat your patients or team.
• Don’t put down your profession.
• Don’t turn to social media for half-truths from people who may not know.
• Don’t be lazy!

If you want to be known as a professional, then become educated on what proper infection control looks like. One thing you can do is join the Organization for Safety, Asepsis and Prevention (OSAP). They offer amazing webinars and information to help you become educated. They work closely with the CDC in developing guidelines, and they put on two informative conventions a year to educate the dental community.

Search online because there are tons of free websites that have some terrific education. Don’t leave it up to your doctor to educate you. If you’re doing something wrong, you are responsible for it! Don’t wait, educate yourself now!

The advantages of being proactive

I hear assistants complain about their wages all the time, that they’re barely making enough to get by. Complaining will get you nowhere! Take your profession seriously, dive in, and go the extra mile. A great career won’t come to you, you have to go out there and get it. Start your education with the most important thing dental assistants do on a daily basis—infection control. There is so much misinformation out there and you can’t trust just anyone. Find answers from the people who make the guidelines, provide the education, and support the legislation.

Stand out in your office for being the leader in infection control! It’s not a suggestion, it’s the law!


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Tija Hunter, CDA, EFDA, CDIA, MADAA, is the office manager and chairside assistant to Dr. Eric Hurtte of O’Fallon, Missouri. She is a member of the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA), where she holds the honor of Master and sits on three national counsels. She is also the Illinois Dental Assistants Association vice president. She is founder of the Dental Assistants Study Club of St. Louis and St. Louis Dental Office Managers Study Club. She is the director of the Dental Careers Institute, with five locations in the US. Tija is also the author of six CE study courses. She is a national speaker and a certified trainer in nitrous oxide in several states. She can be reached at [email protected].