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Smartphone Smarts

The USA Today article, “Your Smartphone Is 7 Times Dirtier Than Your Toilet. Here’s How To Clean It,” recently made the rounds on the internet and it’s understandable why.

The USA Today article, “Your Smartphone Is 7 Times Dirtier Than Your Toilet. Here’s How To Clean It,” recently made the rounds on the internet and it’s understandable why.1 Our smartphones rarely leave our sight or even our grasp. They have become an extension of our hands and are magnets for bacteria, viruses, fungi, and more.

While I admit I’ve thought about how dirty my phone might be, the article emphasized the depth of the contamination. It cited a Nigerian study that cultured bacteria from 150 cell phones provided by volunteers, some of whom were physicians and nurses and hospitalized patients.2 They found that 28% of the phones were contaminated with Escherichia coli, commonly found in fecal matter, and 22.6% had Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a multidrug-resistant pathogen that causes illness in humans. Other bacteria present included Klebsiella sp (14.5%), Serratia sp (13.7%), Staphylococcus aureus (12.9%), and Proteus vulgaris (8.1%). The study authors noted, “Mobile phones have become veritable reservoirs of pathogens, as they touch faces, ears, lips, and hands of different users of different health conditions.” They also suggested that effective strategies for disinfecting phones are necessary to reduce the threats caused by the bacterial contamination of cell phones.2

This type of information is alarming, especially to dental hygienists. We follow proper infection control procedures in our practices and that mindset typically carries over to our personal lives. But could we be unwittingly contributing to the spread of infections with our smartphones? And, if your office has a cell phone policy that allows the use of phones in the operatory (for consultation purposes with other providers, to snap photos to share with your patient, etc) it’s even more crucial to be aware of phone contamination.* Obviously, good hand hygiene is key and dental hygienists are well versed in this protocol. For additional information on hand hygiene, the Organization for Safety, Asepsis and Prevention provides a helpful hand hygiene toolkit available here: page/ Issues_ HandHygiene.

What about our phones? Each manufacturer provides instructions on how phones should be cleaned. A general method for all phones is to use a 70% isopropyl alcohol solution diluted 1:1 with distilled water. Spray the solution onto a microfiber cloth and wipe down the screen and phone case. Be careful to not saturate the phone with liquid, and don’t spray it directly onto the phone. A cotton swab dipped in the solution can be used to clean around corners and crevices. There are also devices specifically designed to disinfect phones using ultraviolet light. Some are effective in as little as 10 minutes and also charge your phone while disinfecting it.

I’m making it a priority to keep my phone clean, knowing that every last contaminant can’t be completely removed. But I can at least try to keep my phone as sanitary as possible.

Jill Rethman, RDH, BA
Editor in Chief

*Many dental offices have policies that do not allow cell phone use in operatories. It’s important to follow office protocols and to abide by Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act standards.

From Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. April 2019;17(4):6.

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