Dental Nursing – Understanding Disinfection

Washing Your Hands

Disinfection uses chemicals rather than steam and pressure to kill micro-organisms, it cannot kill as many micro-organisms as sterilisation can but it does kill a great number of them.

There are several products that are commonly used in dental surgeries and hospitals to disinfect, the most effective products are those which contain a chlorine releasing agent, sodium hypochlorite (also used in endodontic procedures) or bleach as it is more widely known, or those containing aldehyde. Most of these products, particularly those containing bleach have to be prepared before use, to a specific strength;

  • 10% fresh solution is used to clean non-metallic surfaces within a surgery
  • 50% fresh solution is used to clean any blood spatter within the surgery
  • All aldehyde containing disinfectants are prepared using the manufacturer’s instructions – these are  often used to disinfect impressions and laboratory work

Chlorine and aldehyde releasing products cannot be used on all non-autoclavable items as they corrode metal.

Other disinfectants used within the dental surgery contain a type of alcohol- isopropyl alcohol; theses are available from medical product suppliers either in the form of a spray or as pre-soaked wipes. Alcohol disinfectants are more limited to the micro-organisms that they are effective against, so are predominantly used for any surfaces which cannot be disinfected by any other means, for example to disinfect the dentists bracket table, the exterior surface of aspiration (suction) piping, etc.

Dental professionals working in the surgery must also disinfect their hands either between patients or between each change of gloves. The chemical used to disinfect hands is called chlorhexidine, a similar chemical, chlorhexidine glucinate is found in some mouthwashes that are used to hinder gum disease such as Corsodyl, theses mouthwashes are also used prior to dental surgery. There is a specific cleaning procedure in place for correct hand washing.

Hand washing Technique

  • The tap is turned on using an elbow or may possibly be foot controlled
  • Hands are wet under running water
  • Chlorhexidine soap is applied – using the elbow to dispense it
  • All surfaces of the hands are washed thoroughly, preferably from the fingertips downwards
  • Hands are rinsed under running water – with hands pointing downwards
  • Hands are dried using a single- use disposable paper towel

It is of utmost importance that all things which come into contact with a person in the dental surgery must be disinfected or sterilised between patients, including;

  • Door handles
  • Light handles and switches
  • Intra-oral x-ray films
  • Buttons and switches

About the author

I’ve been a dental nurse for over 13 years, and have worked in various parts of the country in orthodontic practices, general dental practices, within the community dental services, for both NHS and private practices. Within that time I’ve seen quite a few changes, not only with the way services are provided, changes in laws and regulations but also with the use of new materials and more advanced treatments. The one thing that hasn’t changed at all in my time as a dental nurse is the importance of people receiving and understanding clear information about dentistry, treatments, regulations and jobs for example.

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