Infection Control in Dentistry
Have you ever wondered why your dentist and dental assistants wear gloves and masks? The answer may seem obvious – to protect you from infectious agents such as viruses and bacteria. While this is certainly true, there is more to it.
All healthcare workers, including those in dental care, must observe what is called universal precautions. This doctrine requires that healthcare providers take measures to protect both themselves and patients during every interaction. One of the basic principles of universal precautions is barrier protection. This means using gloves, gowns, eye shields, masks, etc. to prevent the transmission of pathogens.
Healthcare providers must act as if every patient is potentially infectious, no matter the patient’s age, condition, or background. Simply put, your dentist and dental assistant must always err on the side of caution. However, these precautions go both ways. Not only do dentists use protective equipment to safeguard against contracting illnesses from their patients, but this equipment also serves to protect patients from communicable diseases from dental workers, even something as innocuous as a cold.
Furthermore, most dentists see dozens of patients each day. It is all too easy for illnesses to be transmitted from patient to patient through dental instruments or even dental personnel. For this reason, your dentist sterilizes or sanitizes their instruments and devices after every patient and changes out their personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves.
What about Routine Exams?
It is easy to understand the necessity of precautions during invasive procedures, but why does your dentist use protective equipment even during routine examinations and cleanings? Again, the answer is for your safety and theirs. You could have an open sore in your mouth of which you’re unaware, or your dentist may have a small cut on their finger. By using protective equipment during every procedure or examination, no matter how minor, your dentist is safeguarding your health.
A Word on Oral Bacteria
Foreign bacteria are another of the many reasons why your dental care team uses sterile gloves. The human mouth is full of bacteria, but not all of these microorganisms are harmful. In fact, some bacteria in your mouth may even help digest food or fight off “bad” bacteria. The bacteria that are normally present in your mouth are called your normal flora.
However, when foreign bacteria are introduced into your mouth via food, fingers, objects, etc., the balance of your normal flora may be upset. These foreign bacteria may be pathogenic or disease-causing. If so, they can kill off helpful bacteria and cause other problems like cavities and gum disease.
So, now you know why your dentist wears gloves and other protective equipment. They’re simply looking out for your health and ensuring that all their patients are safe.