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Choosing the right personal protective equipment for the job

Dec. 9, 2009
The best reason to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is for protection from blood, body fluids, and other hazardous materials. Other reasons include patient protection and compliance with OSHA regulations.
By Leslie Canham, CDA, RDAThe best reason to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is for protection from blood, body fluids, and other hazardous materials. Other reasons include patient protection and compliance with OSHA regulations. Dental patients and dental heath-care workers can be exposed to pathogenic microorganisms including cytomegalovirus, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, herpes simplex virus types 1 and 2, HIV, mycobacterium tuberculosis, staphylococci, streptococci, and other viruses and bacteria that colonize or infect the oral cavity and respiratory tract. These organisms can be transmitted in dental settings through 1) direct contact with blood, oral fluids, or other patient materials; 2) indirect contact with contaminated objects (e.g., instruments, equipment, or environmental surfaces); 3) contact of conjunctival, nasal, or oral mucosa with droplets (e.g., spatter) containing microorganisms generated from an infected individual and propelled a short distance (e.g., by coughing, sneezing, or talking), and inhalation of airborne microorganisms that can remain suspended in the air for long periods.1Per OSHA regulations, employers are responsible for providing, maintaining, and laundering PPE for employee use. This means the employer pays for the PPE, repairs, or replaces PPE when it no longer protects the employee, and launders PPE. According to OSHA, it is a violation for employees to take contaminated PPE into their homes for laundering. A frequently asked question is, what kind of clinical jacket should be worn? A clinical jacket must protect the wearer’s skin and street clothing from contact with blood or body fluid. The clinical jacket can be reusable or disposable. Ideally it should be high-necked/high-collared, have long sleeves, and cover the knees when seated (if performing sit-down dentistry). The material should be a comfortable fabric that breathes.2OSHA requires employers to provide appropriate PPE for the task to be performed. For example, tasks such as greeting and seating patients require no PPE. On the other hand, when performing an aerosol-generating procedure on a patient, several items of PPE must be worn. Each dental office should have a protocol for what types of PPE should be worn for various tasks. To help select appropriate PPE, look at the table called “The Right PPE for the Purpose.”2
Click here to see chart larger

“This resource was reprinted with the permission of OSAP. OSAP is a nonprofit organization providing information and education on dental infection control and office safety. For more information, please call (800) 298-6727 or go to”
The different types of PPE used in dental health-care settings include:
  • Gloves: exam, over-gloves, sterile surgical, and utility
  • Face masks: various levels of protection
  • Eye protection: safety glasses, chin-length face shield
  • Clinical jacket: disposable or reusable

In addition to selecting the right PPE for the purpose, donning and removing PPE should be performed in specific steps to prevent cross-contamination or contact with patient fluids.

Follow these steps for donning PPE:

  1. Don clinical jacket.
  2. Seat your patient in the chair.
  3. Don your face mask and adjust fit.
  4. Don protective eyewear.
  5. Wash your hands.
  6. Don gloves.

Follow these steps for removal of PPE:

  1. Remove protective eyewear.
  2. Remove gloves.
  3. Wash hands.
  4. Remove face mask by touching only the ties or elastic straps.
  5. Remove clinical jacket, and be careful not to contaminate your hands.

Wearing the right PPE for the job protects dental health-care workers from contact with blood, body fluids, and other hazardous materials. In addition, wearing PPE conveys a professional image and sends the message to patients that we are concerned about infection control, patient safety, and compliance with OSHA regulations.

If you would like a complimentary PPE chart that you can customize for your office, send your request to [email protected].

Author bio
Leslie Canham is a dental speaker and consultant specializing in infection control and OSHA compliance. She has more than 36 years of experience in dentistry. Canham is the founder of Leslie Canham Seminars, providing in-office training, mock inspections, consulting, and online seminars and webinars to help the dental team navigate state and federal regulations. Reach Canham at (888) 853-7543 or Leslie Canham.


1. Bolyard EA, Tablan OC, Williams WW, Pearson ML, Shapiro CN, Deitchman SD, Hospital infection control practices advisory committee. Guideline for infection control in health-care personnel. Am J Infect Control 1998; 26:289-354.
2. From Policy to Practice: OSAP's Guide to the Guidelines. Annapolis, Md: OSAP, 2004; 34.