You go to the dentist to keep your teeth healthy, but do you think about your general health when you’re there? Without good hygiene practices, patients are more likely to get infections and illnesses after visiting the dentist.
It’s not difficult to lower the risk of infection. Your dentist and his staff can help keep germs from spreading with something as simple as proper hand washing.
The Importance of Hand Washing
In an era of sterilized instruments and latex gloves, you may wonder why hand washing is so important. Does it matter that only 5 to 81 percent of healthcare workers follow recommendations? It certainly does. Hand washing can:
- Reduce colds and other respiratory illnesses.
- Reduce diarrheal diseases.
- Reduce hospital acquired infections.
You may not think about contracting an illness from a dentist’s office because you don’t go there to get better when you’re sick. And dental problems aren’t usually contagious. But just like the waiting room at the doctor’s office, if there’s a patient with a contagious illness (like a cold) in the waiting room, you want to make sure you keep your hands clean–and make sure your hygienist does the same.
When to Wash Hands
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides public health recommendations to guard against the spread of infectious diseases, and it has specific guidelines for dental workers. The CDC recommends that dentists and other dental providers wash their hands on all of the following occasions:
- Any time gloves tear or hands get dirty.
- Before and after treating each patient. Even if your dentist uses gloves, he needs to wash his hands before putting them on and after taking them off.
- After touching instruments that have touched you or been in your mouth.
- After finishing your treatment and before leaving the operatory.
You can take responsibility for your own healthy by ensuring that your dentist and his team washes their hands. Don’t be afraid to ask about hand washing if you don’t see it happening in your room. It’s your health at stake, not theirs!
How to Wash Hands Properly
A proper soap or hand sanitizer is far more effective than water alone. Antimicrobial soap is sufficient for routine hand washing, such as before giving you a dental exam or cleaning your teeth. Antimicrobial hand sanitizer is also adequate. The dentist and his assistants should wash their hands with soap and water for at least 15 seconds, making sure to clean areas under the fingernails and between the fingers. If using sanitizer, your provider should rub in the sanitizer and let it dry completely before touching anything.
Signs of a Good Hand Washing Program
You can check for signs that your dental office enforces a good hand washing program. Notice whether each operatory contains a sink with antimicrobial soap nearby. If not, dispensers with hand sanitizer should be available. An even better sign is when the walls of the dental office display posters encouraging hand washing and showing proper technique.
Do you wash your hands at the dentist?
You can promote better hand washing in your dentist’s office. If you’re not sure whether your dentist or dental hygienist washed her hands properly when getting ready to examine you, speak up. You’ll be doing your providers and the other patients a favor.
When you go to the dentist, do you make sure all the staff who get the instruments ready or work on your mouth wash their hands well? If not, you’re missing a chance to keep yourself healthy while you protect the health of others. And if so, we want to hear about your experience. Was it awkward, or did the dentist appreciate your attention to detail? Let us know with a comment below–we’ll be sure to answer it!