DENTAL HEALTHCARE SETTINGS - 2003 EXCERPTS FROM PUBLICATION
Guidelines for Infection Control in Dental Health-Care Settings --- 2003
Original Publication Prepared by
William G. Kohn, D.D.S.1
Amy S. Collins, M.P.H.1
Jennifer L. Cleveland, D.D.S.1
Jennifer A. Harte, D.D.S.2
Kathy J. Eklund, M.H.P.3
Dolores M. Malvitz, Dr.P.H.1
1Division of Oral Health
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, CDC
2United States Air Force Dental Investigation Service
Great Lakes, Illinois
3The Forsyth Institute
The material in this report originated in the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, James S. Marks, M.D., M.P.H., Director; and the Division of Oral Health, William R. Maas, D.D.S., M.P.H., Director.
This report consolidates previous recommendations and adds new ones for infection control in dental settings. Recommendations are provided regarding 1) educating and protecting dental health-care personnel; 2) preventing transmission of bloodborne pathogens; 3) hand hygiene; 4) personal protective equipment; 5) contact dermatitis and latex hypersensitivity; 6) sterilization and disinfection of patient-care items; 7) environmental infection control; 8) dental unit waterlines, biofilm, and water quality; and 9) special considerations (e.g., dental handpieces and other devices, radiology, parenteral medications, oral surgical procedures, and dental laboratories). These recommendations were developed in collaboration with and after review by authorities on infection control from CDC and other public agencies, academia, and private and professional organizations.
In the United States, an estimated 9 million persons work in health-care professions, including approximately 168,000 dentists, 112,000 registered dental hygienists, 218,000 dental assistants (3), and 53,000 dental laboratory technicians (4). In this report, dental health-care personnel (DHCP) refers to all paid and unpaid personnel in the dental health-care setting who might be occupationally exposed to infectious materials, including body substances and contaminated supplies, equipment, environmental surfaces, water, or air. DHCP include dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants, dental laboratory technicians (in-office and commercial), students and trainees, contractual personnel, and other persons not directly involved in patient care but potentially exposed to infectious agents (e.g., administrative, clerical, housekeeping, maintenance, or volunteer personnel). Recommendations in this report are designed to prevent or reduce potential for disease transmission from patient to DHCP, from DHCP to patient, and from patient to patient. Although these guidelines focus mainly on outpatient, ambulatory dental health-care settings, the recommended infection-control practices are applicable to all settings in which dental treatment is provided.
Dental patients and DHCP can be exposed to pathogenic microorganisms including cytomegalovirus (CMV), HBV, HCV, herpes simplex virus types 1 and 2, HIV, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, staphylococci, streptococci, and other viruses and bacteria that colonize or infect the oral cavity and respiratory tract. These organisms can be transmitted in dental settings through 1) direct contact with blood, oral fluids, or other patient materials; 2) indirect contact with contaminated objects (e.g., instruments, equipment, or environmental surfaces); 3) contact of conjunctival, nasal, or oral mucosa with droplets (e.g., spatter) containing microorganisms generated from an infected person and propelled a short distance (e.g., by coughing, sneezing, or talking); and 4) inhalation of airborne microorganisms that can remain suspended in the air for long periods (5).
Sterilization and Disinfection of Patient-Care Items
Patient-care items (dental instruments, devices, and equipment) are categorized as critical, semicritical, or noncritical, depending on the potential risk for infection associated with their intended use (Table 4) (242). Critical items used to penetrate soft tissue or bone have the greatest risk of transmitting infection and should be sterilized by heat. Semicritical items touch mucous membranes or nonintact skin and have a lower risk of transmission; because the majority of semicritical items in dentistry are heat-tolerant, they also should be sterilized by using heat. If a semicritical item is heat-sensitive, it should, at a minimum, be processed with high-level disinfection (2).
Noncritical patient-care items pose the least risk of transmission of infection, contacting only intact skin, which can serve as an effective barrier to microorganisms. In the majority of cases, cleaning, or if visibly soiled, cleaning followed by disinfection with an EPA-registered hospital disinfectant is adequate. When the item is visibly contaminated with blood or OPIM, an EPA-registered hospital disinfectant with a tuberculocidal claim (i.e., intermediate-level disinfectant) should be used (2,243,244). Cleaning or disinfection of certain noncritical patient-care items can be difficult or damage the surfaces; therefore, use of disposable barrier protection of these surfaces might be a preferred alternative.
FDA-cleared sterilant/high-level disinfectants and EPA-registered disinfectants must have clear label claims for intended use, and manufacturer instructions for use must be followed (245). A more complete description of the regulatory framework in the United States by which liquid chemical germicides are evaluated and regulated is included (Appendix A).
Three levels of disinfection, high, intermediate, and low, are used for patient-care devices that do not require sterility and two levels, intermediate and low, for environmental surfaces (242). The intended use of the patient-care item should determine the recommended level of disinfection. Dental practices should follow the product manufacturer's directions regarding concentrations and exposure time for disinfectant activity relative to the surface to be disinfected (245). A summary of sterilization and disinfection methods is included (Appendix C).
Transporting and Processing Contaminated Critical and Semicritical Patient-Care Items
DHCP can be exposed to microorganisms on contaminated instruments and devices through percutaneous injury, contact with nonintact skin on the hands, or contact with mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, or mouth. Contaminated instruments should be handled carefully to prevent exposure to sharp instruments that can cause a percutaneous injury. Instruments should be placed in an appropriate container at the point of use to prevent percutaneous injuries during transport to the instrument processing area (13).
Instrument processing requires multiple steps to achieve sterilization or high-level disinfection. Sterilization is a complex process requiring specialized equipment, adequate space, qualified DHCP who are provided with ongoing training, and regular monitoring for quality assurance (247). Correct cleaning, packaging, sterilizer loading procedures, sterilization methods, or high-level disinfection methods should be followed to ensure that an instrument is adequately processed and safe for reuse on patients.
Instrument Processing Area
DHCP should process all instruments in a designated central processing area to more easily control quality and ensure safety (248). The central processing area should be divided into sections for 1) receiving, cleaning, and decontamination; 2) preparation and packaging; 3) sterilization; and 4) storage. Ideally, walls or partitions should separate the sections to control traffic flow and contain contaminants generated during processing. When physical separation of these sections cannot be achieved, adequate spatial separation might be satisfactory if the DHCP who process instruments are trained in work practices to prevent contamination of clean areas (248). Space should be adequate for the volume of work anticipated and the items to be stored (248).
Receiving, Cleaning, and Decontamination
Reusable instruments, supplies, and equipment should be received, sorted, cleaned, and decontaminated in one section of the processing area. Cleaning should precede all disinfection and sterilization processes; it should involve removal of debris as well as organic and inorganic contamination. Removal of debris and contamination is achieved either by scrubbing with a surfactant, detergent, and water, or by an automated process (e.g., ultrasonic cleaner or washer-disinfector) using chemical agents. If visible debris, whether inorganic or organic matter, is not removed, it will interfere with microbial inactivation and can compromise the disinfection or sterilization process (244,249--252). After cleaning, instruments should be rinsed with water to remove chemical or detergent residue. Splashing should be minimized during cleaning and rinsing (13). Before final disinfection or sterilization, instruments should be handled as though contaminated.
Considerations in selecting cleaning methods and equipment include 1) efficacy of the method, process, and equipment; 2) compatibility with items to be cleaned; and 3) occupational health and exposure risks. Use of automated cleaning equipment (e.g., ultrasonic cleaner or washer-disinfector) does not require presoaking or scrubbing of instruments and can increase productivity, improve cleaning effectiveness, and decrease worker exposure to blood and body fluids. Thus, using automated equipment can be safer and more efficient than manually cleaning contaminated instruments (253).
If manual cleaning is not performed immediately, placing instruments in a puncture-resistant container and soaking them with detergent, a disinfectant/detergent, or an enzymatic cleaner will prevent drying of patient material and make cleaning easier and less time-consuming. Use of a liquid chemical sterilant/high-level disinfectant (e.g., glutaraldehyde) as a holding solution is not recommended (244). Using work-practice controls (e.g., long-handled brush) to keep the scrubbing hand away from sharp instruments is recommended (14). To avoid injury from sharp instruments, DHCP should wear puncture-resistant, heavy-duty utility gloves when handling or manually cleaning contaminated instruments and devices (6). Employees should not reach into trays or containers holding sharp instruments that cannot be seen (e.g., sinks filled with soapy water in which sharp instruments have been placed). Work-practice controls should include use of a strainer-type basket to hold instruments and forceps to remove the items. Because splashing is likely to occur, a mask, protective eyewear or face shield, and gown or jacket should be worn (13).
Preparation and Packaging
In another section of the processing area, cleaned instruments and other dental supplies should be inspected, assembled into sets or trays, and wrapped, packaged, or placed into container systems for sterilization. Hinged instruments should be processed open and unlocked. An internal chemical indicator should be placed in every package. In addition, an external chemical indicator (e.g., chemical indicator tape) should be used when the internal indicator cannot be seen from outside the package. For unwrapped loads, at a minimum, an internal chemical indicator should be placed in the tray or cassette with items to be sterilized (254) (see Sterilization of Unwrapped Instruments). Dental practices should refer to the manufacturer's instructions regarding use and correct placement of chemical indicators (see Sterilization Monitoring). Critical and semicritical instruments that will be stored should be wrapped or placed in containers (e.g., cassettes or organizing trays) designed to maintain sterility during storage (2,247,255--257).``
Packaging materials (e.g., wraps or container systems) allow penetration of the sterilization agent and maintain sterility of the processed item after sterilization. Materials for maintaining sterility of instruments during transport and storage include wrapped perforated instrument cassettes, peel pouches of plastic or paper, and sterilization wraps (i.e., woven and nonwoven). Packaging materials should be designed for the type of sterilization process being used (256--259).
The sterilization section of the processing area should include the sterilizers and related supplies, with adequate space for loading, unloading, and cool down. The area can also include incubators for analyzing spore tests and enclosed storage for sterile items and disposable (single-use) items (260). Manufacturer and local building code specifications will determine placement and room ventilation requirements.
Sterilization Procedures. Heat-tolerant dental instruments usually are sterilized by 1) steam under pressure (autoclaving), 2) dry heat, or 3) unsaturated chemical vapor. All sterilization should be performed by using medical sterilization equipment cleared by FDA. The sterilization times, temperatures, and other operating parameters recommended by the manufacturer of the equipment used, as well as instructions for correct use of containers, wraps, and chemical or biological indicators, should always be followed (243,247).
Items to be sterilized should be arranged to permit free circulation of the sterilizing agent (e.g., steam, chemical vapor, or dry heat); manufacturer's instructions for loading the sterilizer should be followed (248,260). Instrument packs should be allowed to dry inside the sterilizer chamber before removing and handling. Packs should not be touched until they are cool and dry because hot packs act as wicks, absorbing moisture, and hence, bacteria from hands (247). The ability of equipment to attain physical parameters required to achieve sterilization should be monitored by mechanical, chemical, and biological indicators. Sterilizers vary in their types of indicators and their ability to provide readings on the mechanical or physical parameters of the sterilization process (e.g., time, temperature, and pressure). Consult with the sterilizer manufacturer regarding selection and use of indicators.
Steam Sterilization. Among sterilization methods, steam sterilization, which is dependable and economical, is the most widely used for wrapped and unwrapped critical and semicritical items that are not sensitive to heat and moisture (260). Steam sterilization requires exposure of each item to direct steam contact at a required temperature and pressure for a specified time needed to kill microorganisms. Two basic types of steam sterilizers are the gravity displacement and the high-speed prevacuum sterilizer.
The majority of tabletop sterilizers used in a dental practice are gravity displacement sterilizers, although prevacuum sterilizers are becoming more widely available. In gravity displacement sterilizers, steam is admitted through steam lines, a steam generator, or self-generation of steam within the chamber. Unsaturated air is forced out of the chamber through a vent in the chamber wall. Trapping of air is a concern when using saturated steam under gravity displacement; errors in packaging items or overloading the sterilizer chamber can result in cool air pockets and items not being sterilized.
Prevacuum sterilizers are fitted with a pump to create a vacuum in the chamber and ensure air removal from the sterilizing chamber before the chamber is pressurized with steam. Relative to gravity displacement, this procedure allows faster and more positive steam penetration throughout the entire load. Prevacuum sterilizers should be tested periodically for adequate air removal, as recommended by the manufacturer. Air not removed from the chamber will interfere with steam contact. If a sterilizer fails the air removal test, it should not be used until inspected by sterilizer maintenance personnel and it passes the test (243,247). Manufacturer's instructions, with specific details regarding operation and user maintenance information, should be followed.
Unsaturated Chemical-Vapor Sterilization. Unsaturated chemical-vapor sterilization involves heating a chemical solution of primarily alcohol with 0.23% formaldehyde in a closed pressurized chamber. Unsaturated chemical vapor sterilization of carbon steel instruments (e.g., dental burs) causes less corrosion than steam sterilization because of the low level of water present during the cycle. Instruments should be dry before sterilizing. State and local authorities should be consulted for hazardous waste disposal requirements for the sterilizing solution.
Dry-Heat Sterilization. Dry heat is used to sterilize materials that might be damaged by moist heat (e.g., burs and certain orthodontic instruments). Although dry heat has the advantages of low operating cost and being noncorrosive, it is a prolonged process and the high temperatures required are not suitable for certain patient-care items and devices (261).
Dry-heat sterilizers used in dentistry include static-air and forced-air types.
• The static-air type is commonly called an oven-type sterilizer. Heating coils in the bottom or sides of the unit cause hot air to rise inside the chamber through natural convection.
• The forced-air type is also known as a rapid heat-transfer sterilizer. Heated air is circulated throughout the chamber at a high velocity, permitting more rapid transfer of energy from the air to the instruments, thereby reducing the time needed for sterilization.
Sterilization of Unwrapped Instruments. An unwrapped cycle (sometimes called flash sterilization) is a method for sterilizing unwrapped patient-care items for immediate use. The time required for unwrapped sterilization cycles depends on the type of sterilizer and the type of item (i.e., porous or nonporous) to be sterilized (243). The unwrapped cycle in tabletop sterilizers is preprogrammed by the manufacturer to a specific time and temperature setting and can include a drying phase at the end to produce a dry instrument with much of the heat dissipated. If the drying phase requirements are unclear, the operation manual or manufacturer of the sterilizer should be consulted. If the unwrapped sterilization cycle in a steam sterilizer does not include a drying phase, or has only a minimal drying phase, items retrieved from the sterilizer will be hot and wet, making aseptic transport to the point of use more difficult. For dry-heat and chemical-vapor sterilizers, a drying phase is not required.
Unwrapped sterilization should be used only under certain conditions: 1) thorough cleaning and drying of instruments precedes the unwrapped sterilization cycle; 2) mechanical monitors are checked and chemical indicators used for each cycle; 3) care is taken to avoid thermal injury to DHCP or patients; and 4) items are transported aseptically to the point of use to maintain sterility (134,258,262). Because all implantable devices should be quarantined after sterilization until the results of biological monitoring are known, unwrapped or flash sterilization of implantable items is not recommended (134).
Critical instruments sterilized unwrapped should be transferred immediately by using aseptic technique, from the sterilizer to the actual point of use. Critical instruments should not be stored unwrapped (260). Semicritical instruments that are sterilized unwrapped on a tray or in a container system should be used immediately or within a short time. When sterile items are open to the air, they will eventually become contaminated. Storage, even temporary, of unwrapped semicritical instruments is discouraged because it permits exposure to dust, airborne organisms, and other unnecessary contamination before use on a patient (260). A carefully written protocol for minimizing the risk of contaminating unwrapped instruments should be prepared and followed (260).
Other Sterilization Methods. Heat-sensitive critical and semicritical instruments and devices can be sterilized by immersing them in liquid chemical germicides registered by FDA as sterilants. When using a liquid chemical germicide for sterilization, certain poststerilization procedures are essential. Items need to be 1) rinsed with sterile water after removal to remove toxic or irritating residues; 2) handled using sterile gloves and dried with sterile towels; and 3) delivered to the point of use in an aseptic manner. If stored before use, the instrument should not be considered sterile and should be sterilized again just before use. In addition, the sterilization process with liquid chemical sterilants cannot be verified with biological indicators (263).
Because of these limitations and because liquid chemical sterilants can require approximately 12 hours of complete immersion, they are almost never used to sterilize instruments. Rather, these chemicals are more often used for high-level disinfection (249). Shorter immersion times (12--90 minutes) are used to achieve high-level disinfection of semicritical instruments or items. These powerful, sporicidal chemicals (e.g., glutaraldehyde, peracetic acid, and hydrogen peroxide) are highly toxic (244,264,265). Manufacturer instructions (e.g., regarding dilution, immersion time, and temperature) and safety precautions for using chemical sterilants/high-level disinfectants must be followed precisely (15,245). These chemicals should not be used for applications other than those indicated in their label instructions. Misapplications include use as an environmental surfacedisinfectant or instrument-holding solution.
When using appropriate precautions (e.g., closed containers to limit vapor release, chemically resistant gloves and aprons, goggles, and face shields), glutaraldehyde-based products can be used without tissue irritation or adverse health effects. However, dermatologic, eye irritation, respiratory effects, and skin sensitization have been reported (266--268). Because of their lack of chemical resistance to glutaraldehydes, medical gloves are not an effective barrier (200,269,270). Other factors might apply (e.g., room exhaust ventilation or 10 air exchanges/hour) to ensure DHCP safety (266,271). For all of these reasons, using heat-sensitive semicritical items that must be processed with liquid chemical germicides is discouraged; heat-tolerant or disposable alternatives are available for the majority of such items.
Low-temperature sterilization with ethylene oxide gas (ETO) has been used extensively in larger health-care facilities. Its primary advantage is the ability to sterilize heat- and moisture-sensitive patient-care items with reduced deleterious effects. However, extended sterilization times of 10--48 hours and potential hazards to patients and DHCP requiring stringent health and safety requirements (272--274) make this method impractical for private-practice settings. Handpieces cannot be effectively sterilized with this method because of decreased penetration of ETO gas flow through a small lumen (250,275). Other types of low-temperature sterilization (e.g., hydrogen-peroxide gas plasma) exist but are not yet practical for dental offices.
Bead sterilizers have been used in dentistry to sterilize small metallic instruments (e.g., endodontic files). FDA has determined that a risk of infection exists with these devices because of their potential failure to sterilize dental instruments and has required their commercial distribution cease unless the manufacturer files a premarket approval application. If a bead sterilizer is employed, DHCP assume the risk of employing a dental device FDA has deemed neither safe noreffective (276).
Sterilization Monitoring. Monitoring of sterilization procedures should include a combination of process parameters, including mechanical, chemical, and biological (247,248,277). These parameters evaluate both the sterilizing conditions and the procedure's effectiveness.
Mechanical techniques for monitoring sterilization include assessing cycle time, temperature, and pressure by observing the gauges or displays on the sterilizer and noting these parameters for each load (243,248). Some tabletop sterilizers have recording devices that print out these parameters. Correct readings do not ensure sterilization, but incorrect readings can be the firstindication of a problem with the sterilization cycle.
Chemical indicators, internal and external, use sensitive chemicals to assess physical conditions (e.g., time and temperature) during the sterilization process. Although chemical indicators do not prove sterilization has been achieved, they allow detection of certain equipment malfunctions, and they can help identify procedural errors. External indicators applied to the outside of a package (e.g., chemical indicator tape or special markings) change color rapidly when a specific parameter is reached, and they verify that the package has been exposed to the sterilization process. Internal chemical indicators should be used inside each package to ensure the sterilizing agent has penetrated the packaging material and actually reached the instruments inside. A single-parameter internal chemical indicator provides information regarding only one sterilization parameter (e.g., time or temperature). Multiparameter internal chemical indicators are designed to react to >2 parameters (e.g., time and temperature; or time, temperature, and the presence of steam) and can provide a more reliable indication that sterilization conditions have been met (254). Multiparameter internal indicators are available only for steam sterilizers (i.e., autoclaves).
Because chemical indicator test results are received when the sterilization cycle is complete, they can provide an early indication of a problem and where in the process the problem might exist. If either mechanical indicators or internal or external chemical indicators indicate inadequate processing, items in the load should not be used until reprocessed (134).
Biological indicators (BIs) (i.e., spore tests) are the most accepted method for monitoring the sterilization process (278,279) because they assess it directly by killing known highly resistant microorganisms (e.g., Geobacillus or Bacillus species), rather than merely testing the physical and chemical conditions necessary for sterilization (243). Because spores used in BIs are more resistant and present in greater numbers than the common microbial contaminants found on patient-care equipment, an inactivated BI indicates other potential pathogens in the load have been killed (280).
Correct functioning of sterilization cycles should be verified for each sterilizer by the periodic use (at least weekly) of BIs (2,9,134,243,278,279). Every load containing implantable devices should be monitored with such indicators (248), and the items quarantined until BI results are known. However, in an emergency, placing implantable items in quarantine until spore tests are known to be negative might be impossible.
Manufacturer's directions should determine the placement and location of BI in the sterilizer. A control BI, from the same lot as the test indicator and not processed through the sterilizer, should be incubated with the test BI; the control BI should yield positive results for bacterial growth.
In-office biological monitoring is available; mail-in sterilization monitoring services (e.g., from private companies or dental schools) can also be used to test both the BI and the control. Although some DHCP have expressed concern that delays caused by mailing specimens might cause false-negatives, studies have determined that mail delays have no substantial effect on final test results (281,282).
Procedures to follow in the event of a positive spore test have been developed (243,247). If the mechanical (e.g., time, temperature, and pressure) and chemical (i.e., internal or external) indicators demonstrate that the sterilizer is functioning correctly, a single positive spore test probably does not indicate sterilizer malfunction. Items other than implantable devices do not necessarily need to be recalled; however the spore test should be repeated immediately after correctly loading the sterilizer and using the same cycle that produced the failure. The sterilizer should be removed from service, and all records reviewed of chemical and mechanical monitoring since the last negative BI test. Also, sterilizer operating procedures should be reviewed, including packaging, loading, and spore testing, with all persons who work with the sterilizer to determine whether operator error could be responsible (9,243,247). Overloading, failure to provide adequate package separation, and incorrect or excessive packaging material are all common reasons for a positive BI in the absence of mechanical failure of the sterilizer unit (260). A second monitored sterilizer in the office can be used, or a loaner from a sales or repair company obtained, to minimize office disruption while waiting for the repeat BI.
If the repeat test is negative and chemical and mechanical monitoring indicate adequate processing, the sterilizer can be put back into service. If the repeat BI test is positive, and packaging, loading, and operating procedures have been confirmed as performing correctly, the sterilizer should remain out of service until it has been inspected, repaired, and rechallenged with BI tests in three consecutive empty chamber sterilization cycles (9,243). When possible, items from suspect loads dating back to the last negative BI should be recalled, rewrapped, and resterilized (9,283).
A more conservative approach has been recommended (247) in which any positive spore test is assumed to represent sterilizer malfunction and requires that all materials processed in that sterilizer, dating from the sterilization cycle having the last negative biologic indicator to the next cycle indicating satisfactory biologic indicator results, should be considered nonsterile and retrieved, if possible, and reprocessed or held in quarantine until the results of the repeat BI are known. This approach is considered conservative because the margin of safety in steam sterilization is sufficient enough that infection risk, associated with items in a load indicating spore growth, is minimal, particularly if the item was properly cleaned and the temperature was achieved (e.g., as demonstrated by acceptable chemical indicator or temperature chart) (243). Published studies are not available that document disease transmission through a nonretrieved surgical instrument after a steam sterilization cycle with a positive biological indicator (243). This more conservative approach should always be used for sterilization methods other than steam (e.g., dry heat, unsaturated chemical vapor, ETO, or hydrogen peroxide gas plasma) (243).
Results of biological monitoring should be recorded and sterilization monitoring records (i.e., mechanical, chemical, and biological) retained long enough to comply with state and local regulations. Such records are a component of an overall dental infection-control program (see Program Evaluation).
Storage of Sterilized Items and Clean Dental Supplies
The storage area should contain enclosed storage for sterile items and disposable (single-use) items (173). Storage practices for wrapped sterilized instruments can be either date- or event-related. Packages containing sterile supplies should be inspected before use to verify barrier integrity and dryness. Although some health-care facilities continue to date every sterilized package and use shelf-life practices, other facilities have switched to event-related practices (243). This approach recognizes that the product should remain sterile indefinitely, unless an event causes it to become contaminated (e.g., torn or wet packaging) (284). Even for event-related packaging, minimally, the date of sterilization should be placed on the package, and if multiple sterilizers are used in the facility, the sterilizer used should be indicated on the outside of the packaging material to facilitate the retrieval of processed items in the event of a sterilization failure (247). If packaging is compromised, the instruments should be recleaned, packaged in new wrap, and sterilized again.
Clean supplies and instruments should be stored in closed or covered cabinets, if possible (285). Dental supplies and instruments should not be stored under sinks or in other locations where they might become wet.
Environmental Infection Control
In the dental operatory, environmental surfaces (i.e., a surface or equipment that does not contact patients directly) can become contaminated during patient care. Certain surfaces, especially ones touched frequently (e.g., light handles, unit switches, and drawer knobs) can serve as reservoirs of microbial contamination, although they have not been associated directly with transmission of infection to either DHCP or patients. Transfer of microorganisms from contaminated environmental surfaces to patients occurs primarily through DHCP hand contact (286,287). When these surfaces are touched, microbial agents can be transferred to instruments, other environmental surfaces, or to the nose, mouth, or eyes of workers or patients. Although hand hygiene is key to minimizing this transferal, barrier protection or cleaning and disinfecting of environmental surfaces also protects against health-care--associated infections.
Environmental surfaces can be divided into clinical contact surfaces and housekeeping surfaces (249). Because housekeeping surfaces (e.g., floors, walls, and sinks) have limited risk of disease transmission, they can be decontaminated with less rigorous methods than those used on dental patient-care items and clinical contact surfaces (244). Strategies for cleaning and disinfecting surfaces in patient-care areas should consider the 1) potential for direct patient contact; 2) degree and frequency of hand contact; and 3) potential contamination of the surface with body substances or environmental sources of microorganisms (e.g., soil, dust, or water).
Cleaning is the necessary first step of any disinfection process. Cleaning is a form of decontamination that renders the environmental surface safe by removing organic matter, salts, and visible soils, all of which interfere with microbial inactivation. The physical action of scrubbing with detergents and surfactants and rinsing with water removes substantial numbers of microorganisms. If a surface is not cleaned first, the success of the disinfection process can be compromised. Removal of all visible blood and inorganic and organic matter can be as critical as the germicidal activity of the disinfecting agent (249). When a surface cannot be cleaned adequately, it should be protected with barriers (2).
Clinical Contact Surfaces
Clinical contact surfaces can be directly contaminated from patient materials either by direct spray or spatter generated during dental procedures or by contact with DHCP's gloved hands. These surfaces can subsequently contaminate other instruments, devices, hands, or gloves. Examples of such surfaces include:
• light handles
• dental radiograph equipment
• dental chairside computers
• reusable containers of dental materials
• drawer handles
• faucet handles
Barrier protection of surfaces and equipment can prevent contamination of clinical contact surfaces, but is particularly effective for those that are difficult to clean. Barriers include clear plastic wrap, bags, sheets, tubing, and plastic-backed paper or other materials impervious to moisture (260,288). Because such coverings can become contaminated, they should be removed and discarded between patients, while DHCP are still gloved. After removing the barrier, examine the surface to make sure it did not become soiled inadvertently. The surface needs to be cleaned and disinfected only if contamination is evident. Otherwise, after removing gloves and performing hand hygiene, DHCP should place clean barriers on these surfaces before the next patient (1,2,288).
If barriers are not used, surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected between patients by using an EPA-registered hospital disinfectant with an HIV, HBV claim (i.e., low-level disinfectant) or a tuberculocidal claim (i.e., intermediate-level disinfectant). Intermediate-level disinfectant should be used when the surface is visibly contaminated with blood or OPIM (2,244). Also, general cleaning and disinfection are recommended for clinical contact surfaces, dental unit surfaces, and countertops at the end of daily work activities and are required if surfaces have become contaminated since their last cleaning (13). To facilitate daily cleaning, treatment areas should be kept free of unnecessary equipment and supplies.
Manufacturers of dental devices and equipment should provide information regarding material compatibility with liquid chemical germicides, whether equipment can be safely immersed for cleaning, and how it should be decontaminated if servicing is required (289). Because of the risks associated with exposure to chemical disinfectants and contaminated surfaces, DHCP who perform environmental cleaning and disinfection should wear gloves and other PPE to prevent occupational exposure to infectious agents and hazardous chemicals. Chemical- and puncture-resistant utility gloves offer more protection than patient examination gloves when using hazardous chemicals.
Dental Unit Water Quality
Research has demonstrated that microbial counts can reach <200,000 colony-forming units (CFU)/mL within 5 days after installation of new dental unit waterlines (305), and levels of microbial contamination <106 CFU/mL of dental unit water have been documented (309,338). These counts can occur because dental unit waterline factors (e.g., system design, flow rates, and materials) promote both bacterial growth and development of biofilm.
Although no epidemiologic evidence indicates a public health problem, the presence of substantial numbers of pathogens in dental unit waterlines generates concern. Exposing patients or DHCP to water of uncertain microbiological quality, despite the lack of documented adverse health effects, is inconsistent with accepted infection-control principles. Thus in 1995, ADA addressed the dental water concern by asking manufacturers to provide equipment with the ability to deliver treatment water with <200 CFU/mL of unfiltered output from waterlines (339). This threshold was based on the quality assurance standard established for dialysate fluid, to ensure that fluid delivery systems in hemodialysis units have not been colonized by indigenous waterborne organisms (340).
Standards also exist for safe drinking water quality as established by EPA, the American Public Health Association (APHA), and the American Water Works Association (AWWA); they have set limits for heterotrophic bacteria of <500 CFU/mL of drinking water (341,342). Thus, the number of bacteria in water used as a coolant/irrigant for nonsurgical dental procedures should be as low as reasonably achievable and, at a minimum, <500 CFU/mL, the regulatory standard for safe drinking water established by EPA and APHA/AWWA.
Strategies To Improve Dental Unit Water Quality
In 1993, CDC recommended that dental waterlines be flushed at the beginning of the clinic day to reduce the microbial load (2). However, studies have demonstrated this practice does not affect biofilm in the waterlines or reliably improve the quality of water used during dental treatment (315,338,343). Because the recommended value of <500 CFU/mL cannot be achieved by using this method, other strategies should be employed. Dental unit water that remains untreated or unfiltered is unlikely to meet drinking water standards (303--309). Commercial devices and procedures designed to improve the quality of water used in dental treatment are available (316); methods demonstrated to be effective include self-contained water systems combined with chemical treatment, in-line microfilters, and combinations of these treatments. Simply using source water containing <500 CFU/mL of bacteria (e.g., tap, distilled, or sterile water) in a self-contained water system will not eliminate bacterial contamination in treatment water if biofilms in the water system are not controlled. Removal or inactivation of dental waterline biofilms requires use of chemical germicides.
Patient material (e.g., oral microorganisms, blood, and saliva) can enter the dental water system during patient treatment (311,344). Dental devices that are connected to the dental water system and that enter the patient's mouth (e.g., handpieces, ultrasonic scalers, or air/water syringes) should be operated to discharge water and air for a minimum of 20--30 seconds after each patient (2). This procedure is intended to physically flush out patient material that might have entered the turbine, air, or waterlines. The majority of recently manufactured dental units are engineered to prevent retraction of oral fluids, but some older dental units are equipped with antiretraction valves that require periodic maintenance. Users should consult the owner's manual or contact the manufacturer to determine whether testing or maintenance of antiretraction valves or other devices is required. Even with antiretraction valves, flushing devices for a minimum of 20--30 seconds after each patient is recommended.
Maintenance and Monitoring of Dental Unit Water
DHCP should be trained regarding water quality, biofilm formation, water treatment methods, and appropriate maintenance protocols for water delivery systems. Water treatment and monitoring products require strict adherence to maintenance protocols, and noncompliance with treatment regimens has been associated with persistence of microbial contamination in treated systems (345). Clinical monitoring of water quality can ensure that procedures are correctly performed and that devices are working in accordance with the manufacturer's previously validated protocol.
Dentists should consult with the manufacturer of their dental unit or water delivery system to determine the best method for maintaining acceptable water quality (i.e., <500 CFU/mL) and the recommended frequency of monitoring. Monitoring of dental water quality can be performed by using commercial self-contained test kits or commercial water-testing laboratories. Because methods used to treat dental water systems target the entire biofilm, no rationale exists for routine testing for such specific organisms as Legionella or Pseudomonas, except when investigating a suspected waterborne disease outbreak (244).
Dental Handpieces and Other Devices Attached to Air and Waterlines
Multiple semicritical dental devices that touch mucous membranes are attached to the air or waterlines of the dental unit. Among these devices are high- and low-speed handpieces, prophylaxis angles, ultrasonic and sonic scaling tips, air abrasion devices, and air and water syringe tips. Although no epidemiologic evidence implicates these instruments in disease transmission (353), studies of high-speed handpieces using dye expulsion have confirmed the potential for retracting oral fluids into internal compartments of the device (354--358). This determination indicates that retained patient material can be expelled intraorally during subsequent uses. Studies using laboratory models also indicate the possibility for retention of viral DNA and viable virus inside both high-speed handpieces and prophylaxis angles (356,357,359). The potential for contamination of the internal surfaces of other devices (e.g., low-speed handpieces and ultrasonic scalers), has not been studied, but restricted physical access limits their cleaning. Accordingly, any dental device connected to the dental air/water system that enters the patient's mouth should be run to discharge water, air, or a combination for a minimum of 20--30 seconds after each patient (2). This procedure is intended to help physically flush out patient material that might have entered the turbine and air and waterlines (2,356,357).
Heat methods can sterilize dental handpieces and other intraoral devices attached to air or waterlines (246,275,356, 357,360). For processing any dental device that can be removed from the dental unit air or waterlines, neither surface disinfection nor immersion in chemical germicides is an acceptable method. Ethylene oxide gas cannot adequately sterilize internal components of handpieces (250,275). In clinical evaluations of high-speed handpieces, cleaning and lubrication were the most critical factors in determining performance and durability (361--363). Manufacturer's instructions for cleaning, lubrication, and sterilization should be followed closely to ensure both the effectiveness of the process and the longevity of handpieces.
Some components of dental instruments are permanently attached to dental unit waterlines and although they do not enter the patient's oral cavity, they are likely to become contaminated with oral fluids during treatment procedures. Such components (e.g., handles or dental unit attachments of saliva ejectors, high-speed air evacuators, and air/water syringes) should be covered with impervious barriers that are changed after each use. If the item becomes visibly contaminated during use, DHCP should clean and disinfect with an EPA-registered hospital disinfectant (intermediate-level) before use on the next patient.
Backflow from low-volume saliva ejectors occurs when the pressure in the patient's mouth is less than that in the evacuator. Studies have reported that backflow in low-volume suction lines can occur and microorganisms be present in the lines retracted into the patient's mouth when a seal around the saliva ejector is created (e.g., by a patient closing lips around the tip of the ejector, creating a partial vacuum) (364--366). This backflow can be a potential source of cross-contamination; occurrence is variable because the quality of the seal formed varies between patients. Furthermore, studies have demonstrated that gravity pulls fluid back toward the patient's mouth whenever a length of the suction tubing holding the tip is positioned above the patient's mouth, or during simultaneous use of other evacuation (high-volume) equipment (364--366). Although no adverse health effects associated with the saliva ejector have been reported, practitioners should be aware that in certain situations, backflow could occur when using a saliva ejector.
When taking radiographs, the potential to cross-contaminate equipment and environmental surfaces with blood or saliva is high if aseptic technique is not practiced. Gloves should be worn when taking radiographs and handling contaminated film packets. Other PPE (e.g., mask, protective eyewear, and gowns) should be used if spattering of blood or other body fluids is likely (11,13,367). Heat-tolerant versions of intraoral radiograph accessories are available and these semicritical items (e.g., film-holding and positioning devices) should be heat-sterilized before patient use.
After exposure of the radiograph and before glove removal, the film should be dried with disposable gauze or a paper towel to remove blood or excess saliva and placed in a container (e.g., disposable cup) for transport to the developing area. Alternatively, if FDA-cleared film barrier pouches are used, the film packets should be carefully removed from the pouch to avoid contamination of the outside film packet and placed in the clean container for transport to the developing area.
Various methods have been recommended for aseptic transport of exposed films to the developing area, and for removing the outer film packet before exposing and developing the film. Other information regarding dental radiography infection control is available (260,367,368). However, care should be taken to avoid contamination of the developing equipment. Protective barriers should be used, or any surfaces that become contaminated should be cleaned and disinfected with an EPA-registered hospital disinfectant of low- (i.e., HIV and HBV claim) to intermediate-level (i.e., tuberculocidal claim) activity. Radiography equipment (e.g., radiograph tubehead and control panel) should be protected with surface barriers that are changed after each patient. If barriers are not used, equipment that has come into contact with DHCP's gloved hands or contaminated film packets should be cleaned and then disinfected after each patient use.
Digital radiography sensors and other high-technology instruments (e.g., intraoral camera, electronic periodontal probe, occlusal analyzers, and lasers) come into contact with mucous membranes and are considered semicritical devices. They should be cleaned and ideally heat-sterilized or high-level disinfected between patients. However, these items vary by manufacturer or type of device in their ability to be sterilized or high-level disinfected. Semicritical items that cannot be reprocessed by heat sterilization or high-level disinfection should, at a minimum, be barrier protected by using an FDA-cleared barrier to reduce gross contamination during use. Use of a barrier does not always protect from contamination (369--374). One study determined that a brand of commercially available plastic barriers used to protect dental digital radiography sensors failed at a substantial rate (44%). This rate dropped to 6% when latex finger cots were used in conjunction with the plastic barrier (375). To minimize the potential for device-associated infections, after removing the barrier, the device should be cleaned and disinfected with an EPA-registered hospital disinfectant (intermediate-level) after each patient. Manufacturers should be consulted regarding appropriate barrier and disinfection/sterilization procedures for digital radiography sensors, other high-technology intraoral devices, and computer components.
Dental prostheses, appliances, and items used in their fabrication (e.g., impressions, occlusal rims, and bite registrations) are potential sources for cross-contamination and should be handled in a manner that prevents exposure of DHCP, patients, or the office environment to infectious agents. Effective communication and coordination between the laboratory and dental practice will ensure that appropriate cleaning and disinfection procedures are performed in the dental office or laboratory, materials are not damaged or distorted because of disinfectant overexposure, and effective disinfection procedures are not unnecessarily duplicated (407,408).
When a laboratory case is sent off-site, DHCP should provide written information regarding the methods (e.g., type of disinfectant and exposure time) used to clean and disinfect the material (e.g., impression, stone model, or appliance) (2,407,409). Clinical materials that are not decontaminated are subject to OSHA and U.S. Department of Transportation regulations regarding transportation and shipping of infectious materials (13,410).Appliances and prostheses delivered to the patient should be free of contamination.
Communication between the laboratory and the dental practice is also key at this stage to determine which one is responsible for the final disinfection process. If the dental laboratory staff provides the disinfection, an EPA-registered hospital disinfectant (low to intermediate) should be used, written documentation of the disinfection method provided, and the item placed in a tamper-evident container before returning it to the dental office. If such documentation is not provided, the dental office is responsible for final disinfection procedures.
Dental prostheses or impressions brought into the laboratory can be contaminated with bacteria, viruses, and fungi (411,412). Dental prostheses, impressions, orthodontic appliances, and other prosthodontic materials (e.g., occlusal rims, temporary prostheses, bite registrations, or extracted teeth) should be thoroughly cleaned (i.e., blood and bioburden removed), disinfected with an EPA-registered hospital disinfectant with a tuberculocidal claim, and thoroughly rinsed before being handled in the in-office laboratory or sent to an off-site laboratory (2,244,249,407). The best time to clean and disinfect impressions, prostheses, or appliances is as soon as possible after removal from the patient's mouth before drying of blood or other bioburden can occur. Specific guidance regarding cleaning and disinfecting techniques for various materials is available (260,413--416). DHCP are advised to consult with manufacturers regarding the stability of specific materials during disinfection.
In the laboratory, a separate receiving and disinfecting area should be established to reduce contamination in the production area. Bringing untreated items into the laboratory increases chances for cross infection (260). If no communication has been received regarding prior cleaning and disinfection of a material, the dental laboratory staff should perform cleaning and disinfection procedures before handling. If during manipulation of a material or appliance a previously undetected area of blood or bioburden becomes apparent, cleaning and disinfection procedures should be repeated. Transfer of oral microorganisms into and onto impressions has been documented (417--419). Movement of these organisms onto dental casts has also been demonstrated (420). Certain microbes have been demonstrated to remain viable within gypsum cast materials for <7 days (421). Incorrect handling of contaminated impressions, prostheses, or appliances, therefore, offers an opportunity for transmission of microorganisms (260). Whether in the office or laboratory, PPE should be worn until disinfection is completed (1,2,7,10,13).
If laboratory items (e.g., burs, polishing points, rag wheels, or laboratory knives) are used on contaminated or potentially contaminated appliances, prostheses, or other material, they should be heat-sterilized, disinfected between patients, or discarded (i.e., disposable items should be used) (260,407). Heat-tolerant items used in the mouth (e.g., metal impression tray or face bow fork) should be heat-sterilized before being used on another patient (2,407). Items that do not normally contact the patient, prosthetic device, or appliance but frequently become contaminated and cannot withstand heat-sterilization (e.g., articulators, case pans, or lathes) should be cleaned and disinfected between patients and according to the manufacturer's instructions. Pressure pots and water baths are particularly susceptible to contamination with microorganisms and should be cleaned and disinfected between patients (422). In the majority of instances, these items can be cleaned and disinfected with an EPA-registered hospital disinfectant. Environmental surfaces should be barrier-protected or cleaned and disinfected in the same manner as in the dental treatment area.
Unless waste generated in the dental laboratory (e.g., disposable trays or impression materials) falls under the category of regulated medical waste, it can be discarded with general waste. Personnel should dispose of sharp items (e.g., burs, disposable blades, and orthodontic wires) in puncture-resistant containers.
Edited from Original Document by: BEM, Corp.
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