Over the last several months the entire world has undergone unprecedented changes as the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) began spreading. Over the course of the pandemic the dental industry in particular was shifted to emergency only treatments to ensure that personal protective equipment (PPE) was readily available for those on the front lines, to ensure the safety of staff and patients, and a variety of other reasons.
However, since the beginning of June, practices have begun reopening their doors once again for non-emergency procedures. While we’re happy to be back doing what we love, we recognize that the world is a different place and almost everyone has a heightened awareness of germs and how easily they can spread. We’re dedicating time in this blog to discuss how our office, and the dental industry in general, is well positioned to keep you safe in the weeks, months, and years to come.
What Are Universal Precautions
To put it simply, Universal Precautions is an approach to infection control that treats all human blood and certain human body fluids as if they were known to be infectious. Because in the dental industry we’re working in your mouth, all of our protocols already take into consideration the potential spreading of infectious diseases. This is why we wear personal protective equipment during procedures, clean and sanitize our rooms and sterilize our instruments. All these protocols are done to address these safety concerns daily.
Standard Precautions vs. Universal Precautions
As we mentioned above universal precautions is the approach to caring for a patient that assumes they have an infectious disease. In comparison, standard precautions are the basic level of safety measures that should be taken with any patient regardless of whether or not you know they have an infectious disease. In dentistry we work in an area of the body that creates exposure to both saliva and blood, and as a result we adhere to universal precautions.
Breakdown of Universal Precautions
We take the safety of all our patients and staff very seriously which is why we adhere to all recommendations from the American Dental Association (ADA), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA). These days the universal precautions that should be followed are fairly well documented, but we’ve outlined those most relevant to our practice below.
1. Hand Hygiene – this is a major component of the precautions that we take and can be one of the most effective methods for preventing transmission of diseases. Hands should be washed with warm water and soap. We ensure that there is easy access to hand-washing facilities with clean water, soap, single use clean towels, as well as access to alcohol-based hand rub.
2. Utilize PPE – For our office this includes the use of gloves, masks, face shields, and eye protection as needed. During COVID-19 our entire staff from the front desk to the dentists are wearing masks 100% of the time and patients are also required to wear masks when in public areas.
3. Respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette – the covering of your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing is extremely important. In addition, using good hand hygiene after contact with any respiratory secretions is important. Anyone with acute symptoms should be separated from other people in waiting rooms and other public areas.
4. Patient Care Equipment – this element includes handling any equipment that is soiled with blood or other bodily fluids to prevent transferring pathogens to other patients or the environment. In addition, it addresses the need to clean, disinfect, and preprocess reusable equipment appropriately before using with another patient.
While these precautions have been in place since the start of our practice we recognize that there is an added level of concern for many as things begin to reopen. If you’re curious about the specific ways that we are responding to the COVID-19 outbreak at our office we encourage you to visit our COVID-19 Response page.