Preventing Cross Contamination-How Sterile Is Your Handpiece?

The prevention of transmission of diseases and maintaining a safe work environment is a MUST in any healthcare or dental profession and should always be taken seriously. In our profession, it is our responsibility to stay updated with information regarding infection control. Every dental office is required to have a yearly training of OSHA.

Last year, I was able to work as a clinical instructor at our local hygiene school. Talk about flashbacks. Working with the students is awesome and rewarding, but they are watching the instructors every move. Positioning of our fulcrum, blade angulation and maybe even how long we wash our hands. The students then enter the workforce and BAM! Busy takes on a whole new definition. (No more 3 hour prophys) With time restraints, we have to keep a high level of professionalism and not be careless with sterilization techniques.

Recently, I read an article in my RDH magazine, “Team-Centered Approach to Instrument Processing and Infection Control”, quite a few things had my full attention. Cross contamination of the dental handpiece! Just for a short review, instruments are listed under 3 categories: critical, semicritical, and noncritical. Critical instruments are required to be heat sterilized after every patient. Semicritical may be heat sterilized or use of a high level disinfectant. Noncritical are to be clean and disinfected with low to intermediate level of disinfectant. Handpieces are listed under the semicritical instruments, which can be heat sterilized or wiped with high level disinfectant. Right?

Well, the CDC states, “Dental handpieces and associated attachments, including low speed motors and reusable prophylaxis angles, should always be heat sterilized between patients and NOT disinfected with a high level surface disinfectant. Although these devices are considered semicritical, studies have shown that their internal surfaces can become contaminated with patient materials during use. If these devices are not properly cleaned and heat sterilized, the next patient may be exposed to potentially infectious material.”

It’s definitely a team approach to running our practices and keeping our patients safe. What protocols does your practice have in place? Do you conduct an annual review of policies and procedures? How many handpieces does your hygiene team have in circulation? If you are scratching your head right now, it may be time to review clinical inventory, policies and procedures!

I would like to challenge us to go back to our roots. All the procedures we learned in hygiene school were in place for a reason. And KEEP updated with the most current information. Review the links below for more information. When we know better, we do better! We know too well after a few months of spray, wipe, wait…-the time demon turns us into “Oh let’s just wipe everything. I mean, I only have 45 minutes!” As professionals, don’t compromise what should be the standard. Repeat, Don’t Compromise What Should Be The Standard.

Contact Saving Graceys to assist your office in finding student owned handpieces or reviewing your infection control procedures. We know overall hygiene costs can be expensive, but Saving Graceys can help reduce those cost and help you regain quality in the operatory.

RDH mag-Team Centered Approach

CDC Link

Sterilizing Handpieces

1. Noel Brandon Kelsch. Team-Centered Approach to Instrument Processing and Infection Control. RDH Mag Dec 2016 pgs 39-50
2. Noel Brandon Kelsch. Sterilizing Handpieces. RDH Online
3. Centers of Disease Control (CDC). Summary of Infection Prevention Practices in Dental Settings: Basic Expectations for Safe Care. pg 14

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