Arianna Marsden, RDH
What’s With All The Plastic?
In my daily practice, I am fortunate enough to provide dental hygiene care for many patients, some of which have been patients in the practice for more than 30 years. (That’s longer than I’ve been alive!) These patients often comment to me how much their experience in the dental office has changed over the years. The biggest difference that is noted by these patients are the use of plastic barriers all over the office.
Along with the many advances in technique and technology that dentistry has developed over the years, infection control procedures are one area that has grown by leaps and bounds.
Prior to 1985, many dentists practiced “wet finger dentistry,” a colloquial term for performing dental procedures without wearing gloves. With the increase of diseases being transmitted by bodily fluids, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) introduced a set of precautions that medical and dental professionals were to use to protect themselves and their patients from the transmission of diseases, such as HIV and Hepatitis B, which are spread by blood and other bodily fluids, such as saliva. Under Universal Precautions, all blood and saliva were to be treated as infectious, whether they were known to be or not.
When Universal Precautions were introduced, dental professionals began wearing non-porous materials to protect their hands, mouths, noses, and eyes; particularly gloves, masks, and safety glasses or face shields.
In 1996, approximately ten years after Universal Precautions were introduced, the CDC issued an updated infection control protocol for medical and dental professionals, called Standard Precautions. Standard Precautions include infection control protocols to prevent the transmission of diseases that can be acquired through contact with not just blood and saliva, but also non-intact skin and mucous membranes.
Under Standard Precautions, there are many detailed protocols for the use of gowns, or lab coats, specific hand-cleaning procedures, whether by washing or applying hand sanitizer, and proper decontamination of instruments. Dental professionals still wear gloves, masks, and eye protection to prevent transmission, and they also take additional precautions in the operatory where the patient will be seated.
Between every patient, the CDC stipulates the disposal or sterilization of materials which directly contact the patient’s blood or saliva, and a thorough cleaning and disinfection of all materials and surfaces within a 6 foot radius of the patient, using a chemical germicide that kills bacteria, viruses, and fungi. The CDC also recommends using a plastic barrier for areas in the operatory which are difficult or impossible to disinfect.
So, the next time you’re in the dental office and see plastic around the keyboard, light handles, x-Ray sensors, chairs, and many other surfaces, you can rest assured that your dental professionals are following recommendations by the CDC for protecting you from acquiring any diseases the patient before you may or may not have had.
Want to learn more? Visit us at