The practice of dentistry comes with a whole host of occupational hazards. Most recently, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a fatal lung disease, has been identified as a new safety risk to watch out for. Generally, occupational dentistry hazards fall into the following categories: risk of exposure to chemicals and noxious substances; risk of physical injury; and risk of infection and disease transmission. Dental safety issues of any kind are largely preventable and can be minimised with the right precautions. It’s important that all dental staff are aware of common occupational risks, and follow correct healthy and safety policies and infection control and prevention guidelines.
The first step toward workplace safety involves identifying existing or potential hazards. In particular, sharps injuries are a common, potentially lethal risk in dental practices. The most common diseases transmitted via sharps injuries include bloodborne viruses, such as, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Employees are also at risk of overexposure to radiation from X-ray machines and carpal tunnel syndrome from repetitive hand motions, as well as back injuries from sitting or standing over patients for prolonged periods. Once you’re aware of the risks to watch out for, it’s important to create formal policies and procedures to prevent them. At the bare minimum, you must require all staff to abide by the safety protocols laid out in employee handbooks and training manuals.
Infection control procedures are vital for minimising risk of transmitting infection, and must be followed regardless of whether the patient is infected with or is the carrier of an infectious disease. Protective clothing (including gloves, eye protection, masks, and gowns) must be worn during cosmetic and clinical procedures and cleaning and sterilising instruments. Disposable dental tools and needles should never be reused on another patient. After each patient, disposable gloves must be disposed of, and the dental team must wash their hands and put on a new pair of gloves. While these steps can prevent transmission of diseases, unfortunately accidents can happen. If an employee is poked by a needle or used instrument, they must be medically tested immediately.
Whether they’re at the front desk or in the practice room, it’s important that all employees understand and follow your office’s safety policies and practices. Conduct annual safety training exercises to remind employees of the standard safety policies. Many workers’ compensation insurance companies provide training resources and guides, so you can train your employees in the correct safety policies. Also make healthy and safety a topic discussed at every staff meeting, and be sure to improve any areas of concern. Your staff will feel more confident knowing potential hazards will be fixed before injury occurs.
Working to create a safe work environment for staff is as important as delivering exceptional care to patients. Furthermore, minimising the risks involved in assessing and treating patients is cost-effective and paramount to the success of a dental practice in the long run.