Infection control has always been critical in dental care, but one year after the COVID shutdown, it’s become more essential than ever. How can your busy team ensure staff and patient hygiene? We asked Brandi Hooker Evans, RDH-ER, MHE, whose dental practice consultancy, Stellar Outcomes LLC, helps dental professionals improve patient, clinician and practice health.
Dental professionals already excel at infection control, says Evans. She cites research reported by the American Dental Association showing just 3.1 percent of dental hygienists have contracted COVID-19—a significantly lower infection rate than those in other healthcare occupations.
How can your team get even better at “keeping it clean”? Evans says successful infection control boils down to three essentials: handwashing, sterilizing/disinfecting surfaces and instruments, and using personal protective equipment (PPE).
Wash your hands
What type of soap should you use to wash your hands? How hot should the water be? None of that matters, according to extensive research from the World Health Organization (WHO). “The WHO found simply washing your hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer dramatically reduces the potential for transmitting disease,” Evans explains. The brand of soap or temperature of the water doesn’t matter as long as you follow proper hand-washing procedures.
Disinfect and sterilize equipment and surfaces
Evans suggests dividing your office into a Green Zone (all the areas and items that should be kept uncontaminated, such as keyboards, mice and the clean side of the sterilization room,) and a Red Zone (areas and items that you should assume are contaminated, such as the dirty side of the sterilization room and the instrument cleaning ultrasonic.). Keep Green and Red Zone items separate and never touch anything in the Red Zone with bare hands. Make sure you’re following proper procedures for cleaning and sterilizing instruments and surfaces and are using equipment such as autoclaves correctly.
Protect yourself and your patients with PPE
Just having and wearing PPE isn’t enough; it needs to be worn correctly and consistently. Wear a mask, safety glasses, gloves, and lab jacket when dealing with patients, touching anything that goes in patients’ mouths, or touching anything that could potentially be contaminated, Evans says. Ensure that masks seal correctly and are properly worn—no pushing them under your chin or atop your head or reusing the same mask for multiple patients. "This is not the place to reduce, reuse, recycle,” Evans cautions. Remove your lab coat outside patient areas—for instance, when you go to lunch or drive home—and switch it out for a fresh one if it’s hit with spray or splatter.
Choose your Infection Control Captain
Successful infection control requires the whole team to operate in the same way, says Evans. “If I use the keyboard with contaminated gloves and you use only clean bare hands and come into the room to chart for me, you now have my germs all over your bare hands,” she explains. To establish consistency, Evans recommends choosing an Infection Control Captain (ICC) to take charge of your practice’s infection control procedures. “Look for someone who is passionate about teamwork and quality infection control,” she says.
Evans suggests the ICC should schedule monthly meetings where the staff selects one aspect of infection control to work on. Having your ICC join OSAP (the Organization for Safety Asepsis and Prevention) is a great way to stay abreast of the latest news in infection control.
Promote your commitment to infection control
In today’s times, practicing infection control is a real selling point for your practice. Before COVID-19, most patients probably never thought about the potential for infection at the dentist. Now, it’s top of mind for everyone—so make it part of your marketing, too.
Promote your commitment to hygiene by sharing your infection control practices on your practice website, on your social media pages and in your emails to patients. Share videos of your staff cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, sterilizing dental tools, discarding disposable items and putting on their PPE. Explain how you’re using Lighthouse 360’s Virtual Waiting Room feature to keep patients safe.
Want to learn more about how to prevent infection in your practice? Lighthouse 360 is sponsoring Brandi Hooker Evans’ free 90-minute course, “Spring Cleaning: Infection Control Intensive,” Thursday March 11th at 8 pm EST/5 pm PST. Sign up now to reserve your (virtual) seat.