The Effect of Cross-Contamination in the Dental Office

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One of the greatest challenges for any dental office is to limit cross-contamination among dentists, hygienists, office workers, and patients. Infection control is job one in any dental or medical clinic, because the effects of cross-contamination are both many and quite detrimental to the health of all involved.

Bacteria host many diseases. Many infectious diseases can be spread through saliva and blood, such as periodontal disease and others that affect the entire body, like HIV and hepatitis. This is a threat to both patients and staff at a dental clinic.

Of particular concern are blood-borne viruses, like hepatitis B and HIV/AIDS, as well as respiratory viruses (common cold, staph, tuberculosis, and many more, pseudomonads (gram negative bacteria responsible for lung infections and infections of wounds and burns), and prions (infectious proteins that nucleate in brain tissue).

As you can see, the types of bacteria spread via cross-contamination in the dental office can range from the relatively mild common cold to the deadliest infectious diseases in the world.

There are several measures that clinical staff may take to minimize the opportunities for cross-contamination. These measures focus on people, equipment and supplies, and waste.


Staff should follow strict handwashing protocol before and after each patient.

Personal Protective Equipment:

Staff should wear single-use gloves as well as protective facemasks and eyewear while working with patients.

Sharps Management:

Staff should carefully manage all sharps while in storage and in use, and they should always dispose of sharps properly to eliminate inadvertent infection of patients and staff.

Sterilization and Disinfection of Instruments:

All dental instruments should undergo thorough sterilization and disinfection between patient uses.

Surgery Design:

Dentists should perform surgical procedures in spaces designed for easy cleanup, good ventilation, and separation of clean and dirty zones to keep patients and staff safe at all times.

Waterline Maintenance:

Staff should drain systems each day to prevent accumulation of biofilms and protect the integrity of water used for rinsing and cleansing.

Surface Management:

All surfaces must stay wiped down with appropriate disinfectant cleaners.

Waste Disposal:

Any human tissue, blood or bodily fluids, as well as any swabs, dressings, drugs or other potentially infectious material should be disposed of separately from normal trash and labeled as biohazardous.

Immunizations and Health Screenings:

Dental staffs are encouraged to remain immunized for major preventable diseases like Hepatitis B, influenza, measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis, just as other healthcare workers follow CDC recommendations to this effect. Staff should also record accurate medical histories of patients, in order to prevent compromising the health of others.

With proper adherence to these and other protocols and recommendations from medical associations and regulatory bodies, dental office staff can effectively optimize their offices to prevent cross-contamination. These policies must be strong and ongoing, not simply done from time to time. Everyone’s health is at stake.