Transmission of infectious diseases can be prevented with common sense

Sept. 10, 2004
Rubbing well-scrubbed hands with alcohol before surgery and using self-sheathing syringes to inject local anesthetics and guard against needle sticks are among the suggestions.

When it comes to preventing the transmission of infectious diseases such as hepatitis C and AIDS, simple changes can go a long way. That thinking is reflected in the Centers for Disease Control's Guidelines for Infection Control in Dental Health-Care Settings, 2003, according to a member of the advisory group to the CDC that helped draft the guidelines.

Rubbing well-scrubbed hands with alcohol before surgery and using self-sheathing syringes to inject local anesthetics and guard against needle sticks are two key examples of how oral and maxillofacial surgeons and other dental professionals are using the recently revised guidelines and current research findings to make their clean, safe offices a notch or two cleaner and safer, says Evelyn J. Cuny, R.D.A., M.S., who will speak at the 86th annual meeting of the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons in San Francisco, Calif., September 30, 2004.

"As technology and materials evolve, we are replacing practices that were already good with practices that are even better," says Ms. Cuny, who is an assistant professor of pathology and medicine and director of health and safety at the University of the Pacific School of Dentistry in San Francisco.

"We don't use the same home cleaning products today that we used 20 years ago," she continues, "they've been improved. The same holds true for infection control in dental settings. Sometimes we find out the things we're doing aren't necessary and that we should focus our efforts elsewhere. Research isn't stagnant. We're always testing theories."

The CDC guidelines reflect the latest research and add a slight extra margin of security, Ms. Cuny says. "It's just that much more certain that the patient is not going to be put at any risk."

Ms. Cuny notes that patients already have an extremely low risk of contracting an infection from a dental worker. "It's much more likely for a worker to become infected by treating a patient," she says, although that risk is quite low as well. As a result, the guidelines are designed as much to protect dental workers as they are to protect their patients.

As with the first CDC infection control guidelines issued in 1993, the revised guidelines emphasize uniform precautions for every patient. Ms. Cuny notes that dentists have traditionally had very good infection control practices and have been diligent about office safety. The same holds true for OMSs, who often spend part of their time in sterile hospital operating rooms, where infection control practices are more rigorous than office-based settings. "OMSs bring that O.R. experience to their offices, especially when they're doing more complex procedures," she says.

OMSs and other dental professionals will soon have access to a CDC document that consolidates guidelines from other healthcare settings with potential relevance to their practices, Ms. Cuny reports.

"The idea was to look at all of the guidelines out there and consolidate into one document the most recent information available on the practices that seem prudent and the science behind them," she says.

The American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon, the professional organization representing more than 7,000 oral and maxillofacial surgeons in the United States, supports its members' ability to practice their specialty through education, research, and advocacy. AAOMS members comply with rigorous continuing education requirements and submit to periodic office examinations, ensuring the public that all office procedures and personnel meet stringent national standards.