Hand Hygiene

Guidelines for Practice Success | Managing Regulatory | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Proper hand hygiene is an effective way to help prevent the spread of infection between patients and dental health care workers during both routine procedures and more invasive oral surgeries. The best way to help ensure that your team knows, and follows, proper hand hygiene practices is to provide education and training.

Within the dental setting, proper hand hygiene involves having team members wash hands with water and soap or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when performing routine exams and nonsurgical procedures. When performing surgical procedures, the recommended protocol calls for team members to perform a surgical hand scrub and don surgical gloves. Soap and water should be used anytime hands are visibly dirty or soiled by body fluids; when hands are not visibly soiled, an alcohol based hand sanitizer is the preferred method of decontamination.

Dental health care workers should wash their hands:

  • anytime they treat a patient, both before and after
  • anytime they put gloves on and immediately after removing them
  • anytime bare hands have touched instruments, materials and/or equipment likely to be contaminated by blood, saliva, or respiratory secretions.
  • anytime they reglove or remove gloves that are torn, cut, or punctured.
  • anytime hands are visibly soiled
  • before leaving the dental operatory

Effective handwashing practices include:

  • using soap and water if hands are visibly soiled by bodily fluids
  • using water and plain soap when performing routine exams and nonsurgical procedures
  • doing a surgical hand scrub and then donning surgical gloves when performing surgical procedures

Thoroughly rubbing hands with an alcohol-based sanitizer is sufficient at other times.

It’s important that each manufacturers’ instructions for use (IFU) be reviewed and followed for all products used when performing hand hygiene.

Two helpful resources for guidance on proper hand hygiene are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Guideline for Hand Hygiene in Health-Care Settings and its Summary of Infection Prevention Practices in Dental Settings: Basic Expectations for Safe Care, which was issued in 2016. Some of the topics covered in those resources include:

  • indications for handwashing versus using alcohol-based hand rubs
  • information regarding why healthcare workers should:
    • wash hands before putting on each new pair of gloves
    • don gloves in front of patients
    • seek medical help if they experience hand irritation from gloves
    • remove gloves properly

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also provides guidelines and regulations on adequate hand washing and hand hygiene products. Those guidelines call for dental healthcare personnel to wash hands with either regular soap and water or an antimicrobial soap and water anytime hands are visibly dirty or contaminated with blood or other body fluids. When decontaminating hands with an alcohol-based hand rub, CDC recommends applying the product and then massaging through the fingers until the product dries.

More information is available in this FAQ on Hand Hygiene available through the CDC Division of Oral Health.