Standard Precautions: What you’re already doing to stop viral outbreaks

Viral Outbreaks infection control

Viral outbreaks are at the forefront of America’s collective mind in recent weeks. According to a Washington Post – ABC News poll, two-thirds of Americans believe a widespread Ebola epidemic will occur. As a dentist, how should you address people’s concerns? What should you do to ensure you are protecting your patients and staff?

“Keep Calm and Carry On”

Fortunately, the dental community has focused on infection prevention for years. We have a track record of keeping patients safe from outbreaks that sweep through our communities each year. By following standard best practices, you already slow the spread of infectious diseases like MRSA, Enterovirus 68, and even Ebola.

Here are a few of reminders of the infection prevention best practices you are undoubtedly following in your practice today:

Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE)



The personal protective equipment (PPE) you wear every day—by design—slows the spread of infectious diseases. Take a look at this image (source – New York Times), demonstrating different tiers of protection. Now, note the equipment worn on the left: it looks a lot like the attire you and members of your staff wear every day. Why? Dental procedures create splatter. And so a mask, eye protection, gloves and gown prevent staff from acquiring infections. It also prevents cross-contamination among patients.

Keep in mind that wearing PPE is important, and its proper removal is also critical. The most common source of infection for healthcare workers is the improper removal of protective equipment, so remind your staff of the order in which they are to remove their PPE: (1) gloves, (2) face-shield, (3) gown, and finally (4.) mask.

Biological monitoring of your autoclaves

Ensuring that your autoclaves are functioning properly and that your instruments are being sterilized is a routine practice in every dental practice. Whether you use in-office testing or send test strips to a third-party laboratory doesn’t matter. You are protecting both staff and patients from the spread of infectious diseases. The test results confirming that your instruments are clean should give you and your patients peace of mind. Showing anxious patients your test log is an excellent way to prove your commitment to cleanliness and to reduce anxiety.

Have a checklist for disinfecting operatories, common areas

As you know, infection prevention goes beyond the PPE you wear and instrument sterilization. Getting your operatories and common areas disinfected is just as important. The best way to make ensure your practice achieves the level of cleanliness required is to implement a checklist that integrates the infection prevention protocols like those outlined by OSAP.

Every action on the checklist is itemized. This allows staff to follow step-by-step directions to complete thorough cleanings. A checklist eliminates reliance on staff members’ memories, reducing inadvertent lapses. It will also make auditing for compliance a lot easier: either the operatory is cleaned according to the checklist, or it isn’t. And, you have a record that you (and your staff) followed proper infection prevention procedures.


Following standard dental office infection prevention protocols keep your patients and staff safe from infectious diseases. like MRSA, Enterovirus 68, and even Ebola. When we see news stories about virulent outbreaks such as Ebola, it’s important to remember: “Keep Calm and Carry On.” With the steps you already take every day, you prevent the spread of infection in your practice.

For more information, please visit HealthFirst’s Ebola resource center.

Dr. Donald Cohen, a trusted figure and key opinion leader, has been a licensed and practicing dentist for over 30 years. Additionally, Dr. Cohen has 20 years of teaching experience at Columbia University SDOS, and 20 years as an Attending Dentist at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. With his many years of experience in the field and in the classroom, “Dr. Don” is an expert in the areas of dental compliance, regulations, and best practices.


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