Dentistry today ranks as one of the top 10 most trusted and ethical professions in the entire United States. Many millions of Americans visit their dentist every year, and they may get anything from a routine cleaning or checkup all the way to dental implants such as dentures. Or, the patient may get a root canal or have fillings put in for a cavity. Any American who does not have a regular dentist is urged to find a dentist’s office and start going there regularly, and parents can find a dentist for their kids starting on the child’s second birthday. But the dentists themselves must also work hard so that any patient’s visit is safe and clean. A dentist should never transmit bacteria or disease to his or her patients, so to keep handpieces sanitary is to keep patients safe. Dental lab equipment, dental office equipment, hand tools, and more should be kept sanitary at all times. Other medical professionals are also advised to keep everything clean, such as science lab equipment or an automatic handpiece for surgery. “keep handpieces sanitary” is a fine start, but even a dentist who will keep handpieces sanitary may have other areas of concern, too.

Dentists and Their Work

Many dentists today, about 80% of them, are general practitioners, and the other 20% of dentists are dental specialists who typically limit their practices to one of the nine officially recognized dental specialty areas. Often, dental school students or graduates are hard-working and motivated, and they often plan to make a serious career out of this work. This is good news for patients, who will have their teeth in good hands, but anyone can make a mistake on the job. And in the case of a dentist, this may often manifest as the unintended release of disease. Hand tools, gloves, or even clothing may be contaminated, and since a person’s mouth can be a major entryway for disease entering the body, exercise should be cautioned. A seasoned dentist or a dental school assistant alike should be careful and follow protocol, such as the effort to keep handpieces sanitary. What might good sanitation look like?

Keep it Clean

“keep handpieces sanitary” is just the start. According to ADA, there are some commonplace guidelines for sanitation at the dentist’s office. To start with, a dentist can practice non-pharmaceutical interventions to limit the spread of bacteria and other contagions. A dentist is urged to stay home from work when ill, and if a doctor must sneeze or cough on the job, he or she should do so into a tissue or sleeve, then wash their hands at once (or at least use alcohol-based disinfectant). All frequently-touched surfaces should be cleaned, and during influenza season, people are urged to wear face masks in public if they are ill.

Meanwhile, dental handpieces, both fast and slow speed, and other intraoral instruments should be sterilized with heat between patients. Any device that can be removed from airlines or the water lines of dental units should be thus sterilized to prevent the spread of contagion. The manufacturer’s directions for these devices should also be followed for maximum effect. And of course, any handpiece that cannot be sterilized with heat, and lacks an FDA clearance with validated instructions for reprocessing should not be used at all.

Autoclaves are machines that can use pressure and heat to keep handpieces sanitary. They are often used in hospitals, dental offices, veterinary offices, and even tattoo parlors, and they are highly effective at removing all contagions from a metal tool. But an autoclave may fail sometimes, or have the wrong settings on. A dentist should take care so that their autoclave is on the right setting for their handpieces, and a damaged autoclave should be taken in for repairs. There is a much higher risk for spreading illness if an improperly sterilized hand tool or other item is used during dentistry work.

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