The recent news in Tulsa, Oklahoma, brings to light an issue that is rare, but nonetheless important — cross infection in the dental office, or the transfer of infection from one patient to another in a health care environment.
The unfortunate reality is that you, as the consumer, have very little chance of knowing what’s going on — it’s a huge trust relationship. Cross contamination is literally invisible because it’s caused by microbes invisible to the human eye, so only the professionals can guarantee that it doesn’t happen.
That doesn’t mean it’s out of your control. See my checklist on CNN Health to find out how seriously your dentist takes the issue of infection control procedures.
There are a lot of things you can look out for, but ultimately, the dentist-patient relationship comes down to trust. You have to make a gut decision — is your dentist someone you can trust?
If you ever think, for any reason, that you see something that makes you believe that your dentist and the staff are not perfectionists when it comes to cleanliness – trust your instincts and go somewhere else, or at least speak up!
Is my dentist involved in the community? Sterilization procedures don’t only work to protect the patient from infection – they also work to protect the dentist. Dentists who are careless about cross infection might be depressed or unwell, considering the great risk that this carelessness poses not just others, but themselves. A dentist who is involved in the community and happy outside of work is much less likely to take stupid risks where they could lose their reputation, their license, and their own health.
How does my dentist treat the staff? How well do dentist and staff work together? Is your dentist a good people manager that listens to the staff? This can be an indicator of how comfortable the staff would feel to tell the dentist that sterilization equipment isn’t working or if something else has gone wrong.
While cross infection is exceedingly rare, it’s always healthy to engage in these types of conversations with your dentist, doctor, nurse, or any healthcare practitioner.
I’ll also be appearing on HLN Evening Express tonight at 5pm Eastern to answer questions about cross infection.
Dr. Mark Burhenne DDS