While the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the necessity of access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for those in healthcare professions, PPE has always been an important component of care in all healthcare professions. Personal protective equipment is the protective clothing and equipment worn by healthcare professionals in order to prevent the spread of disease or infection. It’s worn to keep both healthcare providers and their patients safe.
For dentists, dental hygienists, and dental assistants alike, following the correct practices when it comes to PPE is important in preventing the possible transmission of disease from patient to patient, as well as from patient to provider or vice-versa. If you’re considering becoming a dental assistant, here’s what you need to know about PPE and why it’s necessary.
Those with Dental Assistant Training Understand the Importance of PPE
In the dental industry, it’s important to take the proper precautions to reduce the risk of transmitting infections, illnesses, or diseases during both routine examinations and more extensive procedures. PPE works to protect both those in dental professions and the patients they treat. For dental professionals, PPE’s primary function is to protect mucous membranes (the mouth, eyes, and nose) and skin from the droplets which travel and spray during patient care, both directly from patients and from the dental instruments used on patients.
PPE has another function for patients. As professionals with dental assistant training know, the human mouth is brimming with bacteria. Much of this bacteria is necessary to assist us with digestion or fight off harmful bacteria, but when foreign bacteria enters the mouth, this can upset the equilibrium of bacteria already present. If the professionals administering care do not take the proper precautions, a patient’s mouth can become contaminated during their treatment, making them more susceptible to developing an illness or infection.
Because PPE is so important in keeping both dental professionals and the patients they treat safe, it’s important to know what an appropriate PPE set-up looks like at a dentist’s office.
What Does PPE Look Like for Professionals in the Dental Industry?
For those administering dental care, PPE typically includes many different elements. Protective equipment should be worn over the eyes, as eyes are mucous membranes which require extra protection from any spray or splatter. PPE for the eyes may consist of goggles, safety glasses or an additional face shield, providing protection for the sides of the face while still allowing for visibility. For the hands, gloves are standard PPE. The type of glove worn can vary depending on the task at hand. Dentists or dental assistants should wear patient care gloves when administering treatment, and those in dental assistant careers should always wear puncture resistant gloves when cleaning and handling contaminated instruments after a patient visit. To provide protection for the mouth and face, dental health professionals should always wear a mask as PPE. Masks worn should have a filtration level of 95% in order to prevent the transmission of airborne pathogens, while still being comfortable and breathable. As for the body, those in dental professions should wear short-sleeved uniforms to reduce cross contamination, and over the uniforms, single use aprons should be worn to act as a barrier to the spread of body fluids.
Following PPE Protocol in Dental Assistant Careers
To further reduce the risk of contamination, all dental assistants should follow proper protocol when removing and putting on their PPE. When donning PPE, uniforms should be put on first, then aprons, then mask, then goggles or safety glasses, and finally, gloves onto clean hands. For PPE removal, gloves should be removed first, then the apron, then eye protection, gloves, and finally, the uniform. Following this sequence is the best way to ensure that infection doesn’t spread further, keeping you and those around you safe and healthy.
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