What's New in Infection Control?

Oct. 9, 2003
Center for Disease Control updating requirements.

Thanks to advances in technology and an expanded scientific knowledge, dentists' infection-control policies and procedures have vastly improved in the past 10 years. Most practitioners are eager to comply with new polices and regulations, but too many general dentists do not understand that infection control is not static; it needs to be regularly updated according to an article in the October issue of AGD Impact , the newsmagazine of the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD).

"Probably 70 [percent] to 80 percent of GPs have some kind of plan in place, but whether it's been updated in last five years is questionable," says Mary Govoni, RDH, an infection-control educator for more than 11 years, based in Okemos, Mich.

Dental professionals seem to be better informed and more cognizant of infection control than health care workers in other medical settings, Ms. Govoni explained. But unlike group settings, such as hospitals, where infection-control updates and training are closely monitored and enforced, most GPs work independently. In a solo practice, it is easy to lose track of threads of new information from entities, like Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Fortunately, dentists have a bevy of resources at their disposal to ensure they remain updated in infection-control polices. The latest of these resources includes forthcoming guidelines for infection control in the dental office. For the first time in a decade, the CDC will update its recommendations.

At press time, the guidelines had not been finalized; which recommendations stay, go, or are modified probably won't be published until this month or next.

What is certain is, these guidelines will be the latest word in infection control in the dental office. Though the CDC, unlike OSHA, lacks regulatory and enforcement powers, the forthcoming guidelines are de facto regulations; they are the template from which most states legislators and local dental boards draw their various laws and rules.

The CDC recommendations are more comprehensive and user-friendly than those that were issued in 1993, culling resources, research and insight from dozens of fields inside and outside dentistry. From an infection-control consultant's perspective, Ms. Govoni says the guidelines, when finalized, should made it easier for dentists to discover what's needed to achieve good infection control, using specific policies and procedures, and backing it up with research and cited studies.

As a former private practitioner, Harold Edelman, DDS, who lectures on infection control and works as a consultant, preparing more than 800 practices for OSHA inspections, says he knows how difficult it can be for a general dentist to educate staff on guidelines, especially when facing such daunting obstacles as turnover, staff education and cost.

Education also is an important part of maintaining up-to-date infection control policies in your office. Several state dental boards mandate annual or biannual infection control education for dentists.