Are you safe at the dentist?

The news out of Oklahoma a few months ago  was beyond disturbing – it was shocking. More than 50 patients of a Tulsa dentist contracted serious illnesses because of unsterile practices at his dental office.

News reports revealed that, among other things, the Tulsa dentist apparently reused the same needles on different patients and used bleach instead of proper sterilizing methods for his dental tools.

Since then, media across the country have found and reported on patient complaints about sterilization.  This attention reminds us that:

1.)    Cases such as the Oklahoma dentist are extremely rare

2.)    Patients have every right to ask questions about dental practices

In our office, we’re happy to give interested patients a tour of our sterilization room, which includes:

  • A “dirty side” for recently used equipment and a “clean side” for sterilized equipment
  • An ultrasonic cleaner, which cleans by using ultrasound waves passed through a liquid cleaning solution.
  • The steam autoclave, which sterilizes the instruments with high pressure saturated steam at nearly 250 degrees.
  • Sterilized equipment waiting inside sterile bags for me or my staff to use while wearing medical gloves.

After each patient appointment, all metal instruments are sterilized.  And everything that is plastic, paper or gauze is thrown away.  This includes everything from the paper “bib” around your neck to the plastic suction tube your hygienist uses during a cleaning.

Also between patient visits, every chair, countertop, light and so on is disinfected with antibacterial wipes. Even the keyboard on my computer has a plastic covering that is replaced each time!

All of these are standard procedures to keep dental patients healthy and safe.  I’ve been a dentist for 30 year now and believe that the vast majority of dentists follow these practices.

Still, just as medical patients have become empowered to ask questions in a doctor’s office or at the hospital, dental patients should ask any questions they have.

If you have a concern, voice it.  Don’t feel odd about saying, “I’m concerned about sterilization.  What do you do in your office?”

You have every right to ask the question – and to get an answer that satisfies you.