Dentist Office Challenges Today: From Bloodborne Pathogens to Airborne PathogensGreg Garner
Imagine you have the perfect team of dentists and hygienists, and you love working with patients. Being a dentist can be fulfilling, but that doesn’t exempt your dentist office from the challenges of health care.
No matter where you work, you and your team have to worry about airborne pathogens and bloodborne pathogens. That way, you can protect each other and your patients.
Read on to learn more about the challenges facing local dentist offices.
Bacteria and Viruses in a Dentist Office
When considering the challenges that local dentist offices have to face, it’s important to consider pathogens. Of course, dentists and hygienists have to follow the right protocols when working with patients.
However, the addition of viruses like SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) and its various mutations have added more factors. Being able to protect staff and patients against COVID-19 is essential, even as more people receive the COVID vaccine.
Staff, patients, and families can all bring airborne pathogens and bloodborne pathogens into the dentist office. Because of this, everyone needs to be on alert to help prevent the spread of various diseases.
Consider a few examples of pathogens that dentists are facing, both related and unrelated to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Staphylococcus aureus (staph) is in the noses of about 30 percent of people. In most cases, the bacteria are harmless, but it can cause infections.
It’s important to reduce the transmission of this bacteria, especially when working near the nose and mouth. While people started wearing masks to protect against COVID-19, masks can help protect against staph.
However, the bacteria can still spread when patients have to remove their masks for a dental appointment. The risk can be even higher when performing dental surgery or other complex procedures.
The airborne pathogen can spread quickly, and any strain can be dangerous, even when antibiotics can help. It’s important to take precautions to protect patients and staff from the bacteria by wearing masks and gloves and not touching your face.
Tuberculosis is another airborne pathogen that can cause problems in the dentist office. One of the reasons for this is that the masks dental employees wear don’t always protect against Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria behind the infection.
The bacteria can also remain in the air for a long time. If another patient comes in and they are susceptible to tuberculosis, they could inhale those droplets from the air.
Fortunately, people with latent (inactive) tuberculosis can’t spread it. However, someone with active tuberculosis can spread the disease. If that person goes into the dentist office and coughs, that could cause the bacteria to stay in the air.
While you can treat tuberculosis, it can be deadly, so it’s an important challenge for dentists and hygienists to tackle. That way, you can protect patients with weaker immune systems.
Hepatitis B is a bloodborne pathogen, and it can spread when you contact body fluids from an infected person. This makes it easy to get it if you have a patient with hepatitis B. When you work on their teeth, you have a risk of contacting their fluids.
The disease can affect your liver, and it can be short-term or chronic. If you have a patient with hepatitis B, it’s especially important to clean the toothbrush and other dental instruments after their visit.
Using the same toothbrush as someone with hepatitis B can increase your risk of getting the disease. It can help to ask patients about their medical history so that you can make sure not to transmit bacteria.
But hepatitis B can take weeks to show symptoms, so some patients may not know that they have it. That can make it even harder to avoid in the dentist office.
Hepatitis C is another bloodborne pathogen, and it can cause liver problems, like hepatitis B. Sharing toothbrushes can increase the risk of transmitting hepatitis C to others.
Like with hepatitis B patients, you should take extra care to clean the dental instruments you use when someone has hepatitis C. If you aren’t sure if someone has it, you should act like they do.
That way, you can make sure you clean all of the tools in your office well enough. While it can be time-consuming, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
You should also protect yourself by wearing gloves, a mask, and protective eyewear. Then, you can keep body fluids from getting on your hands and face.
The flu may seem like a small problem compared to other diseases in local dentist offices. However, it can be just as serious, especially for patients with weak immune systems or other problems.
If a patient or employee comes into the office and has the flu, they could spread it to other people. While employees should wear masks when working with patients, the infection can spread when a patient comes in and removes their face covering.
A good way to reduce the transmission of the flu is to get training on how to control infections. Even though you don’t treat the flu as a dentist, you may work with people who have it.
You can’t always keep patients from coming to their appointments. But you can understand how to reduce the transmission of diseases like the flu.
Of course, COVID-19 is a serious challenge for dentists during the pandemic. While people are getting the vaccine, it’s unclear when enough people will have the vaccine to protect everyone.
Still, the dentist office can be a perfect place for COVID-19 to spread, especially as new strains emerge. COVID-19 is also a challenge because many people get it and don’t have symptoms.
If they do have symptoms, it can take time for those to appear. You could have excellent patients who reschedule their appointments whenever they feel sick.
But that may not stop the spread of COVID-19 in local dentist offices. Throughout the pandemic and after, dentists will need to take extra care to protect themselves, their staff, and their patients.
How to Avoid Transmitting Pathogens
When considering the challenges that dentists face during the COVID-19 pandemic, you should consider how to reduce or avoid transmission. Fortunately, you can take some steps to reduce the chances of transmitting diseases between staff and patients and from patient to patient.
As you consider common airborne pathogens and bloodborne pathogens, think about what you and others in your office can do. It will be a team effort to get the best results. But you can protect everyone who comes into the dentist office.
The first thing you can do is to outline protocols for everyone to follow. You should have protocols for staff and patients, and make the steps easy to understand.
Perhaps for staff members, your policies include a bloodborne pathogens training. That way, staff members know how to work with patients who have hepatitis or another bloodborne disease.
For patients, you could ask them about their medical history and symptoms. And while it’s not completely effective, you may choose to take their temperatures before they enter the office.
Make your policies clear, and consider allowing extra days off for your employers. Have a flexible rescheduling policy so that patients can get the care they need.
You should also have employees get up to date on their vaccines. They should get vaccines for diseases like hepatitis B, influenza, and COVID-19, when that vaccine is available.
While you may not be able to require vaccines of patients, you can ask them to get vaccines. Ask patients about their recent vaccines when they schedule an appointment. That way, you can know if someone has a certain vaccine.
Unfortunately, you can’t require parents or visitors to get vaccines unless they’re also there for an appointment. However, you can post signs asking for vaccines.
You can also have procedures for people who haven’t had a certain vaccine. Then, you can still treat your patients without putting yourself, your staff, or other patients at risk.
For pathogens without vaccines, you can also ask your employees and patients to get tests. Testing for tuberculosis can ensure someone doesn’t have an active form of the disease.
Then, you won’t have to worry about them transmitting the disease and having it sit in the air. You can also have your staff members receive training on tuberculosis prevention.
When you ask patients about their recent vaccines, you should also consider asking them about tuberculosis testing. Some people don’t get regular tests, but it can be worth asking, especially if someone has symptoms.
Testing for diseases can be a good way to discover them when someone doesn’t have symptoms. As COVID-19 testing has become more common, that can be another test worth asking employees and patients to do before visiting the office.
Stay Home When Sick
If you have a small dentist office, it can be hard to encourage employees to stay home. You may want or need the help, so you may not want people to take off of work.
However, you should ask employees to stay home when they’re sick. In most cases, it isn’t worth having a sick employee come into work.
At best, they won’t be as alert to do their job, and at worst, they could get others sick. If they get other employees sick, that could make those employees take time off.
And if a patient is sick, you can ask them to reschedule. That way, you and your staff don’t have to be at risk of getting sick when treating patients.
When working with patients, you and your employees should always wear gloves. Now, gloves don’t replace washing your hands, so you should still do that between patients. Washing your hands and wearing gloves can help you reduce the chance of transmitting bacteria to patients.
Switching gloves after a patient can keep you from transmitting one patient’s germs to another. Make sure you have plenty of gloves on hand to prepare for this. If possible keep a few different sizes of gloves so that employees can use a comfortable size.
Make sure you dispose of gloves safely so that you can keep pathogens from spreading. You can use a trashcan in a separate room from where you work with patients.
You should also wear a mask to keep from spreading germs to patients. Look for good quality masks with multiple layers to help protect yourself and others.
While you used to be able to take masks off between patients, try to keep them on to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Even if you and your staff have gotten the vaccine, most patients have to wait longer.
And as with any vaccine, the COVID-19 vaccine isn’t 100 percent effective. You could still get sick with it after getting the vaccine, so you could pass it to your coworkers or to patients.
If possible, try to avoid having visitors or other guests in the dentist office. Now, this isn’t always practical, especially if you work in pediatric dentistry. You may need to have a parent in the room with the child.
During a pediatric appointment, have just one parent come into the office. That parent should wear a mask for the entire visit so that they can protect others in the office.
However, adults should be able to attend their dental appointments on their own.
Minimizing visitors can reduce the chances of spreading pathogens. While patients may get a disease from their families, you can take other steps to keep that patient from spreading the disease.
Clean Equipment Thoroughly
After each patient, you should clean all of the equipment as best as you can. Use soap and water or a sanitizer to clean the toothbrush, mirror, and anything else that went in a patient’s mouth.
You should also clean the water sprayer and the tool used to suck up water from the patient’s mouth. That way, you can reduce the chance of the germs getting into other patients’ mouths.
Prepare Your Dentist Office
As the world faces new strains of COVID-19, your dentist office has a lot to consider. You have to keep your staff and patients safe, but you also have to run a successful dentist office.
Luckily, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. But you do need to consider the risks so that you can mitigate them.
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