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Remember this dental infection control fiasco? Could this be you?

Remember this dental infection control fiasco?
Explore infamous cases of dental infection control negligence and discover steps to safeguard your practice and ensure patient safety.

As dental professionals, part of our continuous training lies in learning from other people’s mistakes in the field and ensuring we don’t repeat them. This brings me to the infamous case of Dr. John Vecchione. Remember that? If not, let me jog your memory. 

In 2016, Dr. Vecchione, an oral surgeon from New Jersey, faced serious consequences for neglecting dental infection control practices at his Budd Lake clinic. Fifteen patients he treated between 2012 and 2014 suffered from bacterial endocarditis, a severe inflammation of the inner lining of the heart valves and chambers. Twelve patients required heart surgery and, tragically, one lost their life as a result of the infection — the 54-year-old male, previously free of any cardiac issues, had to undergo heart valve replacement surgery and succumbed to postoperative complications caused by enterococcus endocarditis. All from an irresponsibly performed tooth extraction.

The state Health Department and Dentistry Board threw some serious shade, alleging that Vecchione had engaged in professional misconduct and gross negligence by failing to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) infection protocols and repeatedly putting his patients’ health at risk. His office’s subpar standards included using non-sterile water/saline during surgeries, improper handling and storage of single-dose medication vials, mishandling and improper disposal of needles/syringes, as well as neglecting proper instrument preparation. 

The result? Dr. Vecchione had to take a five-year break from the dental stage, accompanied by nearly $300,000 in penalties. Ouch! After four years of active suspension, he would be supervised closely by a board-approved dentist for a one-year probation period. This entails observation, signed reports, and certification. Plus, he was required to successfully complete board-approved courses in office management, record-keeping, infection control practices, and ethics for medical professionals before resuming work in his office. 

The lesson here is crystal clear: strict adherence to dental infection control practices is non-negotiable for patient safety and well-being. We simply can’t afford to play out of tune with so much at risk.

Here are a few things to consider in your dental office:

Do You Have Records of Your Weekly Spore Testing?

Dr. Vecchione's case underlines the importance of consistently monitoring the efficacy of your sterilization processes. Do you have meticulous records of your weekly spore testing? If not, it's time to pay attention. Spore testing is your office's report card on how well your sterilization equipment is performing. Like a health checkup for your instruments, weekly spore testing ensures they’re in top-notch shape and ready for safe use. So, get those records to ensure your instruments are 100% infection-free.

What Types of Chemical Indicators Are Used to Monitor Sterilized Instruments?

Now, let's talk about chemical indicators. Dental offices often use chemical indicators, assuming the one for the outside is the same as the one for the inside of the instrument package. However, they overlook one crucial detail — there are very different types of chemical indicators. Unfortunately, good intentions lead to a common mistake: employing the external indicator for both. However, the CDC advises a combination of biological, chemical, and physical/mechanical indicators to ensure items are clean and sterile, and, most importantly, safe for the next patient.

What Are Your Protocols For Your Dental Unit Waterlines?

Dr. Vecchione's mishandling of water in his practice is a cautionary tale for all dental professionals. So, how are your dental unit waterlines doing? They happen to be a prime spot for bacterial growth and biofilm development thanks to their extended narrow-bore tubing, uneven flow rates, and the possibility of oral fluid retraction. The CDC has recommendations, and proper waterline protocols can make or break your dental infection control routine. After all, one single drop of contaminated water and you're inviting trouble into your patients' veins. I could go on forever about infection prevention practices you shouldn’t be skipping, or you can just purchase my Infection Control Coordinator Guidebook where all those sections are laid out for you. In this guidebook, I break down the unique challenges faced by dental offices and offer: 

  • Simplified infection control protocols tailored to your dental office 

  • Hassle-free ways to stay organized and compliant 

  • Expert guidance at your fingertips  

Elevate Your Dental Infection Control Game 

Ok, people, the lesson’s over. Now, it's time to take action. The first step to taking dental infection control seriously is assigning your Infection Control Coordinator (ICC). Who is steering your safety ship, and do they have the necessary infection control certification? At Level Up Infection Prevention, we don't just want to meet the basics; we want to exceed them.


This immersive training aims to provide you or your ICC with a robust system to execute a thorough infection control program effectively. Hence, it's beyond a regular course — it's a deep dive into creating and implementing infection prevention protocols that ensure 100% compliance all the time. By growing their expertise, an ICC can better defend your patients' safety and your office's reputation. So, let's ensure your ICC is not just a captain but a qualified expert with a compass leading your team beyond the basics. 

In conclusion, fellow dental superheroes, let's learn from Dr. Vecchione's missteps. Be vigilant about your weekly spore testing, use the right combination of sterilization indicators, follow the CDC's waterline recommendations, and level up your ICC’s expertise to the latest guidelines. Together, we can create a world where dental infection control practices ensure the safety and well-being of every patient who walks through our doors.

Michelle Strange, Infection Control Coordinator
Michelle Strange, Infection Control Coordinator

Stay safe, stay informed, and stay smiling!

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