Taking proper care of infection control in the dental office is the same as making smart monetary investments for the future. By obeying the guidelines established by international health organizations, it is possible to protect patients and guarantee lower infection rates. This is known as infection control and is the cornerstone of protection against hazardous materials and the spread of diseases and infections. While some issues involving preventive dentistry might be taken care of without visiting a dental healthcare professional’s office, it is vital to have a safe space against infections so that patients can have face to face appointments with ease.
Many governments have labeled dentistry as an essential profession and noted the importance of patients not delaying or avoiding checkups and visits to a dental healthcare professional. However, a recent study by A.M. Kranz, G. Gahlon, A.W. Dick, and B.D. Stein shows that up to 74% of surveyed adults have delayed a visit or checkup with the dentist due to COVID-19. For some, avoiding in-person dental visits is because of a fear of catching COVID. In contrast, for others, financial reasons or simply because people have not remembered to make appointments stop them from visiting the office. This finding confirms the importance of having a clean, safe workspace and how patients must trust that the space that’s safe enough for them to visit without fear.
While patients must continue to employ preventive dentistry techniques to decrease the chance of obtaining severe mouth infections, checkups are a vital part of preventing oral diseases, and a virus-free space is a necessity with suitable infection control protocols in place are essential when providing dental care to them.
The Hierarchy of Hazard Controls
While most preventive dentistry occurs outside of the dentist’s office, more elaborate procedures involve visiting oral care professionals. For this reason, dental offices must be as protected as possible against viruses and hazardous materials by obeying the parameters established by the hierarchy of hazard controls — a system used in industry to eliminate exposure to various hazards. During the pandemic, most dentists are taking extra care with these measures and strictly applying them to their offices so as to provide patients with enough confidence to get their checkups. The five different levels of the hierarchy are: Elimination, Substitution, Engineering Controls, Administrative Controls, and Personal Protective Equipment, all of which have been adjusted specially for airborne diseases like COVID-19.
The best way to remove a hazard is by physically eliminating the threat. Regarding COVID-19 and its transmission, elimination is achievable by preventing patients who have tested positive from coming to the dentist unless it is absolutely necessary. Preventive dentistry has taken center stage in this regard, as patients that might have a positive Coronavirus test can still receive care via teledentistry, videoconferencing and online services. Patients can still access dental services but are eliminating the risk of spreading infection in the dental office.
Since there is still no actual way to protect against COVID 19 in a face to face appointment effectively, the next option involves engineering controls. These measures aim to remove the hazard at the source before coming into contact with a possible carrier. It includes the following options amongst others: routine use of disinfectant (particularly those in the EPA’s list N), barriers and partitions used to separate the dentist physically from the patient, and hands-free equipment (trash receptacles, soap and towel dispensers, door openers, and other) are all considered engineering infection controls usable in the dentist’s office.
These are the specific training, procedures, or policies aimed at preventing access to a particular hazard. An example of these controls is the standard operating procedures (SOPs) that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends. These include: keeping a safe distance of over two meters, maintaining good hygiene etiquette when it comes to coughing and sneezing, a properly-identified hand hygiene procedure (Wash your hands continuously with soap and water for 20-30 seconds), and other additional guidelines that everyone can follow.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
The last line of defense implies a more direct access to the hazardous material. It requires a great deal of attention on behalf of the individuals risking exposure to the virus. The world has become highly familiarized with face masks, and while there has been a massive industry and market created thanks to this need, the most effective face masks are the N95 respirator filters, as they protect from 95% of airborne particles. Health care offices also use another layer of protection — disposable gloves.
The use of PPE and the implementation of administrative controls are employer-dictated — policies and procedures that alter how the dental team works to lessen or avoid the risk of hazard exposure. The more adherence to these procedures, the fewer transmissions take place.
The first step towards good oral hygiene is for patients to take care of their teeth at home through preventative dentistry, but visiting a dentist for a checkup is equally important and necessary. Industrial security protocols like the hierarchy of hazardous controls to prevent the spread of infections in the workplace, specifically COVID-19, have become mandatory everywhere globally, and the dentist’s office is no exception. These investments in sanitary protection and the use of infection control SOPs allow enhanced protection of oral health while staying safe and keeping everyone free from infection.