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Practice Safety/Patient Safety Archived Through 2012
 FAQ - Practice Safety/Patient Safety - Archived Through 2012



We were all trained in the 1990s to avoid using Cavitrons and Prophy jets on patients with active diseases (i.e., HIV, HBV, HCV) because of the likelihood of blood aerosolization. Most of the recent research I've checked has been unclear as to whether anything other than typical standard precautions are needed (plus pre-procedure mouthrinse, high speed evacuation, etc.). As far as you know, is this still the case? I can't find anything really definitive.

First and foremost, if a patient presents with any active, infectious disease, dentists should consult with the patient's treating physician prior to dental care. Modifications to the treatment plan may be necessary.

OSAP can provide general information regarding infection control guidelines. However, it is often a personal choice as to whether or not a dental healthcare worker chooses hand scalers or ultrasonic scaling. According to dental infection control experts, there shouldn't be a need to refrain from use of ultrasonic scalers with HIV/Hep. B & C positive patients. As with the use of ultrasonic scalers on any patient, proper PPE, HVE, engineering controls, work practice controls, etc. should be followed. Following Standard Precautions means all patients should be treated the same regardless of their status (e.g. HIV, Hep. B & C). In other words, all patients should be treated as if they are carrying an infectious disease. Therefore, if a clinician would not ultrasonic an HIV/HBV/HCV positive patient, then following Standard Precautions means you should not use it for any patient.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Infection Control Guidelines for Dental Health Care Settings (December 2003), in part, states the following:

Preprocedural Mouth Rinses:

Antimicrobial mouth rinses used by patients before a dental procedure are intended to reduce the number of microorganisms the patient might release in the form of aerosols or spatter that subsequently can contaminate DHCP and equipment operatory surfaces. In addition, preprocedural rinsing can decrease the number of microorganisms introduced in the patient's bloodstream during invasive dental procedures. (1)

No scientific evidence indicates that preprocedural mouth rinsing prevents clinical infections among DHCP or patients, but studies have demonstrated that a preprocedural rinse with an antimicrobial product (e.g., chlorhexidine gluconate, essential oils, or povidone-iodine) can reduce the level of oral microorganisms in aerosols and spatter generated during routine dental procedures with rotary instruments (e.g., dental handpieces or ultrasonic scalers). Preprocedural mouth rinses can be most beneficial before a procedure that requires using a prophylaxis cup or ultrasonic scaler because rubber dams cannot be used to minimize aerosol and spatter generation and, unless the provider has an assistant, high-volume evacuation is not commonly used. (1)

The science is unclear concerning the incidence and nature of bacteremias from oral procedures, the relationship of these bacteremias to disease, and the preventive benefit of antimicrobial rinses. In limited studies, no substantial benefit has been demonstrated for mouth rinsing in terms of reducing oral microorganisms in dental-induced bacteremias (400,401). However, the American Heart Association's recommendations regarding preventing bacterial endocarditis during dental procedures provide limited support concerning preprocedural mouth rinsing with an antimicrobial as an adjunct for patients at risk for bacterial endocarditis. Insufficient data exist to recommend preprocedural mouth rinses to prevent clinical infections among patients or DHCP. (1)

Although transmission of bloodborne pathogens (e.g., HBV, HCV, and HIV) in dental health-care settings can have serious consequences, such transmission is rare. Exposure to infected blood can result in transmission from patient to DHCP, from DHCP to patient, and from one patient to another. The opportunity for transmission is greatest from patient to DHCP, who frequently encounter patient blood and blood-contaminated saliva during dental procedures. (1)

Since 1992, no HIV transmission from DHCP to patients has been reported, and the last HBV transmission from DHCP to patients was reported in 1987. HCV transmission from DHCP to patients has not been reported. The majority of DHCP infected with a bloodborne virus do not pose a risk to patients because they do not perform activities meeting the necessary conditions for transmission. For DHCP to pose a risk for bloodborne virus transmission to patients, DHCP must 1) be viremic (i.e., have infectious virus circulating in the bloodstream); 2) be injured or have a condition (e.g., weeping dermatitis) that allows direct exposure to their blood or other infectious body fluids; and 3) enable their blood or infectious body fluid to gain direct access to a patient's wound, traumatized tissue, mucous membranes, or similar portal of entry. Although an infected DHCP might be viremic, unless the second and third conditions are also met, transmission cannot occur. (1)

The risk of occupational exposure to bloodborne viruses is largely determined by their prevalence in the patient population and the nature and frequency of contact with blood and body fluids through percutaneous or permucosal routes of exposure. The risk of infection after exposure to a bloodborne virus is influenced by inoculum size, route of exposure, and susceptibility of the exposed HCP. The majority of attention has been placed on the bloodborne pathogens HBV, HCV, and HIV, and these pathogens present different levels of risk to DHCP. (1)

DHCP should be familiar also with the hierarchy of controls that categorizes and prioritizes prevention strategies. For bloodborne pathogens, engineering controls that eliminate or isolate the hazard (e.g., puncture-resistant sharps containers or needle-retraction devices) are the primary strategies for protecting DHCP and patients. Where engineering controls are not available or appropriate, work-practice controls that result in safer behaviors (e.g., one-hand needle recapping or not using fingers for cheek retraction while using sharp instruments or suturing), and use of personal protective equipment (PPE) (e.g., protective eyewear, gloves, and mask) can prevent exposure. In addition, administrative controls (e.g., policies, procedures, and enforcement measures targeted at reducing the risk of exposure to infectious persons) are a priority for certain pathogens (e.g., M. tuberculosis), particularly those spread by airborne or droplet routes. (1)

Dental practices should develop a written infection-control program to prevent or reduce the risk of disease transmission. Such a program should include establishment and implementation of policies, procedures, and practices (in conjunction with selection and use of technologies and products) to prevent work-related injuries and illnesses among DHCP as well as health-care--associated infections among patients. The program should embody principles of infection control and occupational health, reflect current science, and adhere to relevant federal, state, and local regulations and statutes. An infection-control coordinator (e.g., dentist or other DHCP) knowledgeable or willing to be trained should be assigned responsibility for coordinating the program. (1)

The effectiveness of the infection-control program should be evaluated on a day-to-day basis and over time to help ensure that policies, procedures, and practices are useful, efficient, and successful (see Program Evaluation). (1)

Standard precautions include use of PPE (e.g., gloves, masks, protective eyewear or face shield, and gowns) intended to prevent skin and mucous membrane exposures. Other protective equipment (e.g., finger guards while suturing) might also reduce injuries during dental procedures. (1)

Engineering controls are the primary method to reduce exposures to blood and OPIM from sharp instruments and needles. These controls are frequently technology-based and often incorporate safer designs of instruments and devices (e.g., self-sheathing anesthetic needles and dental units designed to shield burs in handpieces) to reduce percutaneous injuries. (1)

Work-practice controls establish practices to protect DHCP whose responsibilities include handling, using, assembling, or processing sharp devices (e.g., needles, scalers, laboratory utility knives, burs, explorers, and endodontic files) or sharps disposal containers. Work-practice controls can include removing burs before disassembling the handpiece from the dental unit, restricting use of fingers in tissue retraction or palpation during suturing and administration of anesthesia, and minimizing potentially uncontrolled movements of such instruments as scalers or laboratory knives. (1)

Again, it is often a personal choice as to whether or not a dental healthcare worker chooses hand scalers or ultrasonic scaling.

You may also contact CDC's Oral Health Resource Division for further guidance regarding ultrasonic scaling. They may have additional research data regarding the use of ultrasonic scalers that OSAP would not be aware of. Contact information is available at:


1) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Infection Control Guidelines for Dental 
Healthcare Settings.




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