How Can I Best Protect Myself?
I am starting a position in a practice that serves a large number of patients who are medically compromised due to an infectious disease. I know that wounds and needle sticks generated during dental procedures are a common avenue of pathogenic transmission. How can I best protect myself?
Thanks for your inquiry. In order to effectively answer your question I would need a bit more information. What is your role or position in the practice? Are you a dental assistant, a dental hygienist, front office staff? Will you have exposure to bloodborne pathogens? If you are a staff member who has exposure to blood or bodily fluids, you are protected under the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens Standard (BBP), which protects workers.
Your office is required to comply with the OSHA BBP Standard by providing you with training on the office’s infection control policies/procedures, they are required to provide you with personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, gloves, eyewear, and a protective garment (such as a lab coat). They are also required to offer you (at no charge) the Hepatitis B vaccination which will protect you from Hepatitis B, a bloodborne pathogen. The office must also have an Exposure Control Plan (ECP) in the event of an “exposure incident” (such as a needlestick) and they must provide training to you so you understand what to do in the event of an exposure incident. These are OSHA requirements that every dental office must comply with or else they run the risk of steep fines and possible license revocation.
All patients are treated as potentially infectious (not just those who report disease) therefore universal precautions are used with everyone. Universal precautions are for our own protection and were put into place because:
- Patients with an infectious disease may not report it;
- There is typically an incubation period when patients do not show signs of the disease, so they may not know they are infectious;
- You cannot tell by looking at someone if they have a disease.
To best protect yourself, you will need to attend the training provided by your employer, and you may want to visit the OSHA website http://www.osha.gov, The Organization for Safety and Prevention (OSAP) website at http://www.osap.org, or the American Dental Association (ADA) at http://www.ada.org for more information about infection prevention measures. I hope that helps.