Every Practice Needs an Infection Control Coordinator

Richard Gawel


Effective infection control is an essential responsibility of every healthcare provider. Yet as dental practices juggle an ever-expanding list of demands involving clinical care, insurance regulations, financial management, marketing and promotion, and much more, ensuring the safety of patients and professionals alike gets equally difficult—and sometimes overlooked.

Jessica S. Wilson, MPH, an infection prevention and instrument management specialist with Hu-Friedy, discussed the critical role of infection control during a seminar at the Greater New York Dental Show in New York City on Tuesday, November 29. After her presentation, she shared additional insights with Dentistry Today—and why each dental office needs an infection control coordinator to maintain best practices.

Q: Generally speaking, why is infection control so important?

A: Infection control is not new for the healthcare profession and the dental care environment. Every patient deserves a safe visit to the dentist, and healthcare providers deserve to work in a safe environment free from the transmission of infectious diseases while they’re trying to perform their clinical tasks. So, there are little nuances of infection control that without attention being paid to it and the changes in technology, and the evolution of products in the dental environment, that can contribute to infectious disease transmission. So, there’s a need for education and awareness, just to make sure that we’re doing the things we’re supposed to be doing.

Q: When it comes to infection control, where are some of the “hot spots” that dental professionals need to pay attention to?

A: I think one of the basic things that can’t be spoken enough of is hand hygiene. It’s just making sure that we wash our hands, knowing when to, knowing how to do so properly, and making sure that we’re doing so properly. Another area is going to be instrument reprocessing. It actually is a very complex process, but there are several ways to take the complexity out of it. And that’s part of what I try to do in my education, make infection control easy to understand and easy to perform. And there’s assistance that’s needed by way of education and product selection.

Q: There have been some recent cases of infections involving dental unit waterlines. What do dentists need to know about the dangers they present?

A: I think, number one, is just to have the education and awareness that transmission through dental unit waterlines is possible, and I think we’ve seen that with some of the cases that have made it into mainstream media. Not only in Anaheim and Georgia, but there was also Louisiana a couple of years ago. I think knowing it’s possible, even one transmission case or one infection case from contaminated water is too many. Dentists need to know that waterlines are a source of contamination and are a source of infectious transmission within the dental practice. So, there are protocols that can protect patients when they’re in the chair that can also protect dentists from risking liability. Really, it’s as simple as testing your water to make sure that you are in an acceptable range of patient treatment water, which is 500 colony-forming units of biofilm per milliliter. If you’re testing at more than 500, then perform the proper antimicrobial cleaning protocols with a maintenance product. And, repeat the testing periodically as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends to make sure you’re staying within that 500-mL limit, regardless of what your protocol is. It’s as simple as that.

Q: Within the dental office, who should be responsible for taking the lead in infection control?

A: Every practice should have a designated infection control coordinator to take on the tasks of infection control, the responsibility and the education that’s required, to help the practice stay compliant with the recommended infection control protocols that ultimately help provide a safe dental visit for the patients.

Q: How does one become an infection control coordinator?

A: It’s actually pretty simple. You just have to already have an education or express an interest. One resource that’s good for someone who says, “You know what? I want to do that, and I don’t know where to begin,” is the Organization for Safety & Asepsis Procedures (OSAP). OSAP.org is about to embark on an initiative specifically targeted at the infection control coordinator to provide education, training, and walk through the multitude of resources that OSAP has specifically targeted at preparing the infection control coordinator to take on these tasks. It is free for people to participate. All they have to do is show an interest, and that’s what makes it so great.

Q: Are there any other resources that dental professionals can use?

A: I think you can look at the CDC guidelines. The CDC oral health website also has a new summary that they released, the CDC 2016 summary, which is an interpretation of the 2013 guidelines. It has a free checklist in addition to the summary for practices to use as a self-assessment. Also, dental manufacturers—I’m an employee of Hu-Friedy, which has a very robust educational website, where there’s on-demand webinars that people can take at no charge, and they can get continuing education credit. And then they can also provide resources, literature, and checklists that are not only objective when it comes to CDC guidelines and compliance, but it also has resources for different products that will help aid in that compliance as well. 

Q: Do you have anything else you’d like to add?

A: I think it’s very exciting to see the response to the infection control initiatives that are coming about and the interest that dental practices are seeing. We are always looking for new and emerging leaders to help champion this message, keep the message of patient safety going, and keep dental infection control in a very positive spotlight with patients and with the profession.

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