A Dental Assistantant’s Guide to Infection Control

Female patient at dentists office

Dental assistants are dental health professionals who work closely with patients, under the supervision of a dentist. They are responsible assisting dentists with a wide range of dental procedures including:

  • placing and removing rubber dams
  • mechanically polishing the coronal portion of teeth
  • whitening the teeth using tray-based systems
  • preparing and applying pit and fissure sealants
  • taking preliminary impressions of teeth for study models

Intra oral dental assistants and the tools they use can often come into close contact with fluids like saliva, blood, and mucus a which can potentially carry harmful bacteria and viruses. To ensure that infection-causing micro-organisms like bacteria and viruses don’t spread from patient to patient (or from a patient to dental care professional) dental assistants learn about microbiology and infection control as they complete their training program.

If you are planning to enroll in dental assistant courses, read on to find out how dental professionals use their expert training to prevent the spread of infections and keep patients safe.

How Infections can Spread in Dental Offices

Infections can be caused by parasites, harmful bacteria, and viruses. They can be spread through direct contact with infected fluids, through infected water droplets when a patient sneezes, or they can be spread indirectly through tools that have come into contact with infected fluids.

In each case, dental assistants use tools, protective equipment, and procedures they learned from their dental assistant program to prevent infections from spreading.

Dental Assistants Screen Patients to Prevent the Spread of Infection

Although most patients will cancel a dental appointment if they are feeling under the weather, it is critical for dental assistants to encourage patients to reschedule when they are coughing or have a fever.

Sick patients are more likely to spread an illness throughout a dental office, and should only keep their appointment in the case of an emergency. If a dental assistant sees that their patient is coughing or has a fever, they might suggest that they come back at a later time for their appointment.

Dental Assistants Wash their Hands and Wear Protective Gear

Dental assistant schools instruct students on wearing the proper protective gear and following certain procedures to prevent the spread of infections. At school, dental assistants learn to wash their hands regularly with warm soapy water before seeing a patient as well as after they have seen a patient, and even during a procedure if they think it is necessary.

They should also wear disposable gloves so that their hands don’t come into direct contact with fluids like saliva. To help prevent tears in gloves, dental assistants make sure to keep their nails short and filed.

In addition to wearing gloves and washing their hands often, dental assistants also wear protective eyewear and a mask to prevent water droplets from potentially spreading an infection. Dental assistants typically wear long sleeve lab coats over their clothes as an added precaution.

Dental Instruments are Cleaned and Sterilized by Dental Assistants

Dental instruments like mouth mirrors, dental scalers, and dental probes come into direct contact with fluids like saliva, mucus, and blood. As a result, they can spread infections if they are not properly sterilized in between patients.

Dental assistants sterilize dental equipment and tools after each patient visit. Often, they sterilize these instruments in a specialized room dedicated to sterilization, so that dirty tools don’t accidentally contaminate clean equipment. They can use instrument washers, ultrasonic cleaners, and other devices to properly clean and disinfect equipment.

Other surfaces like patient chairs are also wiped down to ensure that infections are not spread from one patient to another.

Are you interested in becoming a certified dental assistant? Visit CADH for more information or to speak with an advisor.

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