Dirty Instrument Exposure and the Dental Professional

In my ToothCoppin’ days when I inspected dental offices due to infection control complaints one of the items on the state’s checklist is whether the dental office has puncture resistant utility gloves. Little did I realize at the time how valuable those ‘silly’ little gloves are for a dental practice.

One of the most common calls coming into Tooth Cop headquarters is that a dental team member has received an injury from a dirty instrument. Usually everyone is in a panic and cannot recall that the information they need at that critical moment. Some of the questions in the chaos are:

  • Where does the employee need to go to receive medical attention?
  • Is the source patient known?
  • Has the employee has HBV?
  • Were they wearing proper PPE at the time?

Some of the most common worries are:

  • The patient told us they have (insert horrible disease here).
  • The employee had HBV years ago, but never had a titer drawn.

And in our experience, the most common reason for a dirty instrument exposure is:  they were not wearing utility gloves while handling the dirty instrument. I hear all the time how difficult it is to handle hand pieces while wearing utility gloves. Sorry, but I am not one to sympathize when it comes to safety. 

As many of you know, I have 10 years of experience as a street cop. As a deputy sheriff and Field Training Officer, it was my job to train rookie deputies how to be safe in a dangerous profession. Day one I always gave my speech about how we, as individuals, bring one thing to our professional, integrity and an open mind.

Day one I also laid out the ground rules of riding in my patrol car. They were:

#1 – we always wear our seat belts, period

#2 – we always wear our bullet-resistant vests, no exception

#3 – my car, my rules. If you don’t like my rules, pass your training, so you can move on to another trainer

Silly rookies always thought I just wanted to make their lives miserable. Actually, the intent was to make sure they (we) went home to our loved ones at the end of our shifts. Not a bad idea huh?

You can probably imagine the push back I got on my safety rules. They would whine like 3-year olds, “but the seat belt gets caught in my badge (or gun)”, which was true by the way. My response was simple. Learn how to overcome those obstacles, so they are not a hindrance. We practiced getting in and out of the car, donning and doffing our seat belts until we could do it quickly and proficiently under stressful circumstances.

Then came the excuse, “I can’t draw my gun with my seat belt on.” Can you guess what we spent hours working on after that comment? If you’re wondering, we unloaded our guns before we practiced that skill.

Moral of the Story is don’t let obstacles become excuses when it comes to safety. Practice until you become proficient with a skill and it will not be an obstacle. Besides, your family depends on your safety, regardless of the hazards you face or your profession, so glove up!

Did you know that most utility gloves can (and probably should) be autoclaved periodically?

That’s it for today. Stay tuned for additional posts on Infection Control. Be sure to share this with your friends and colleagues on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ or by e-mail.


We’ll talk again soon!


       Tink (a.k.a. the “Toothcop”)