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ADA cites infection control resources as media focuses on Oklahoma oral surgeon

March 29, 2013

The ADA is closely monitoring a news story involving the investigation of a Tulsa, Okla., oral surgeon for allegedly poor infection control practices and delegation of dental procedures.

The Association emailed an Issues Alert statement to its members Friday citing resources on infection control and health practices in U.S. dental offices.

The ADA has long recommended that all practicing dentists, dental team members and dental laboratories use standard precautions as described in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Infection Control in Dental Health Care Settings guidelines (PDF). Studies show that following proper infection control procedures greatly reduces risk to patients to the point of an extremely remote possibility.

Infection control procedures are designed to protect patients and health care workers by preventing the spread of diseases like hepatitis and HIV. Examples of infection control in the dental office include the use of masks, gloves, gowns, eyewear, surface disinfectants and sterilizing reusable dental devices. In addition, dental health care providers are expected to follow procedures as required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The following links may be helpful to dentists: Policy Statement on Bloodborne Pathogens, Infection Control and the Practice of Dentistry; Statement on Infection Control in Dentistry; and CDC Guidelines for Infection Control in Dental Health-Care Settings (2003) (PDF).

If patients express concern, dentists may find the below talking points helpful:

• I'm glad you asked me about this because I want to assure you that in my dental practice, we follow stringent infection control procedures.

• Also, as your doctor, I would only delegate procedures to my staff that they are licensed or qualified to perform per state regulations.

• I care about my patients and your health and safety are my foremost priorities.

• Studies show that following proper infection control procedures greatly reduces risk to patients to the point of an extremely remote possibility.

• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has developed special recommendations for use in dental offices.

• Let me describe just a few of the things that we do in my practice in terms of infection control.

• All dental staff involved in patient care scrub their hands before each and every patient and use appropriate protective garb such as gloves, masks, gowns and eyewear.

• A new set of gloves and masks are used for each patient.

• Before you enter the examining room, all surfaces, such as the dental chair, instrument tray, dental light, drawer handles and countertops, have been cleaned and decontaminated.

• Nondisposable dental instruments are cleaned and sterilized between patients. In my office, we sterilize instruments using [describe whether you use an autoclave which involves steam under pressure, dry heat or chemical sterilization. If you wish, you could offer to show your patients your sterilization or set-up area.]

• Disposable items like needles or gauze are placed in special bags or containers for special, monitored disposal.

• Your well-being is important to me and my staff, which is why we follow stringent infection control procedures and comply with all state regulations for the protection of patients.

• You can visit the American Dental Association's website at and use the search term “infection control” to see a video on this topic. The website has a lot of information to help you take care of your oral health, too.

Patients may also ask if the dentist's office is regularly inspected. Inspection requirements vary from state to state, so dentists who are unsure about their state's requirement are encouraged to contact their state dental board.