Eye Safety in the Dental Office

Anytime is a good time to take a look at eye safety procedures among your staff and for your patients.

Standard precautions must be followed when providing care for every patient. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Guidelines recommend that patients wear protective eyewear during all dental procedures likely to produce splashing or the spattering of blood or other body fluids.

When it comes to providing patients with protective eyewear, the recommended maxim is “patient first on, and last off” which means that the patient should don protective eyewear immediately upon sitting in the dental chair and that the eyewear should remain in place until the patient is ready to exit the operatory. Here are a few basic reminders about proper eyewear protocols in the dental practice.

Do patients who wear glasses need eye protection? Won’t their own glasses provide enough protection for their eyes?

Yes, patients with prescription glasses still need protective eyewear since their own eyewear doesn’t offer sufficient protection from splashes or spattering. If the patient resists and says their glasses provide enough coverage, reassure them that the safety glasses used in your practice were specifically selected because they fit comfortably over prescription eyewear.

Patients who wear contact lenses should be given the standard protective eyewear used in the practice since contact lenses do not provide any protective barrier.

Are there different types of protective eyewear?

Yes. Specific protective eyewear is designed for use during dental procedures that use lasers, light curing units, and bleaching units. Each manufacturer and dental device has specific recommendations unique to their products, so it’s best to refer to the product literature that was provided with the equipment.

What’s the best way to remove eye protection that might be contaminated?

When removing patients’ eye protection, be sure to wear gloves and touch only the plastic temples. Since the temples keep the eyewear in place during treatment, they can be assumed to be relatively "clean." Be careful not to touch the front and sides of the safety lenses since they’re most likely to have been contaminated by sprays, splashes, or droplets during patient care. Place all reusable eye protection in a single, designated container so it can be cleaned and disinfected.

How should my staff disinfect reusable eye protection?

The CDC recommends disinfecting reusable protective eyewear between patients according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Contaminated eye protection devices should be processed in the same area where other soiled equipment is handled. Eye protection should be physically cleaned and disinfected with the designated disinfectant, rinsed, and then allowed to air dry. The person who cleans and disinfects these items should wear gloves during the entire process.

What should I do if an eye injury occurs?

  • First, assess the type of injury. Splash injuries must be irrigated immediately for at least 15 minutes. Follow the guidelines on the appropriate Safety Data Sheet for chemical exposures. Chemical and bloodborne pathogen exposures require immediate referral to qualified medical personnel for evaluation and post-exposure management.
  • Penetrating injuries should be assessed, irrigated, and have an immediate referral to qualified medical personnel for evaluation and post-exposure management.
  • Write a detailed report of the incident and how it occurred.
  • Ask the health care professional who conducted the post –exposure evaluation for a signed statement confirming that the exam was conducted and that the patient was advised of any necessary follow-up.
  • While the Occupational Safety & Health Administration enforces the Standard on Occupational Exposure to Bloodborne Pathogens, many states have additional requirements relating to occupational exposure incidents. Make sure you check with your state agencies about additional regulations and check with the appropriate state or local agency to determine if other regulations might apply.

All dental professionals are dedicated to patient and staff safety and using protective eyewear, periodically reviewing work place protocols, and making sure your staff has the appropriate training can reduce or eliminate eye injury risks in the dental health care setting.