Are dental offices really safe during the global pandemic, given the highly infectious nature of COVID-19? This is a valid concern keeping even people with serious tooth problems away from the dentist. Especially, considering that dentists and patients are in so close contact with each other.
In a recent DentaVox survey focused on the “ Hygiene in the Dental Office ”, more than 3400 respondents shared their attitudes, as well as their personal experience during their last dental visits.
It comes as no surprise that the majority of them (95%) admit that they have become (significantly) more demanding of hygiene at the dentist’s due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now let’s see what the patients’ perceptions on hygiene in the dental office are and what they have to share!
Top 5 procedures for good hygiene in the dental office
Disinfection & Personal Protection
Asked about the most important hygienic measure that has to be ensured in a dental office, 50% of DentaVox respondents have pointed out the thorough disinfection of dental equipment. The second largest group of people (22%) thinks that disinfecting often touched surfaces is vital for maintaining the proper hygiene in dental practices.
Reality check: We were curious to know what part of respondents have witnessed these activities during their last dental appointment. It turns out that 61% of them have actually seen the dental staff disinfecting dental equipment, and 46% – often touched surfaces.
Bearing the COVID pandemic in mind, it’s rather surprising that personal protection equipment (PPE) (9%) and hand washing / sanitizing (5%) have relatively low proportions among all answers. In reality, 67% of people have seen dental staff wash their hands, and 50% – change their PPE.
For a wonder, keeping the office organized ranks fifth with 4.20% leaving behind other more hygiene-specific answers. Obviously, this group of respondents tends to confuse tidiness with good hygiene. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “hygiene refers to conditions and practices that help to maintain health and prevent the spread of diseases.” Clean is often considered hygienic, too, but this is a misconception. Cleaning is the removal of visible dirt, while hygienic cleaning also eliminates invisible dirt, germs, and other pathogens. Tidy, on the other hand, means neat, well organized, but on its own does not guarantee cleanliness or good hygiene.
Fresh air in combination with mechanical ventilation is essential for keeping germs and viruses out of closed rooms and especially dental surgeries. The higher the air change in a room, the shorter the time the dentist needs to wait before seeing another patient. More and more dental facilities also use air purifiers which further improve air quality and prevent allergies.
Therefore, it strikes to some extent that a relatively low percentage of DentaVox respondents place the highest importance on air purity – only 0.76% of them have selected opening windows and 4.10% – air purification / disinfection as a top priority. In reality, 23% of respondents have seen dental staff opening windows during their last dental visit, and 25% of them report having spotted some sort of air purification system.
Even though wearing disposable shoe covers is compulsory in most dental clinics,
floor cleaning (if possible, after each patient) is essential for maintaining proper hygiene in the office. Respondents, however, attribute very low importance to
washing floors (1.30%). In reality, only 18% have seen dental staff washing floors during their last dental visit.
Signs of good hygiene in the dental office
How can you tell if a dental office keeps flawless hygiene? You cannot be fully sure about it except you witness the sanitization process with your own eyes. Upon entering the dental practice, 55% of DentaVox respondents tend to form their first impression by simply looking, and 19% of them smelling around. Others either checked the cleaning protocols, or asked / were informed by the dental staff about the last cleaning session.
Overall, the biggest part of respondents (41%) seem to judge the hygiene in a dental office by the state of the equipment / tools used during a dental appointment. The second most important hygiene indicator is the condition of the entire treatment room (29%) – compared to only 9% for the state of the surgery room. The state of the waiting room also plays a significant role in forming the general impression about hygiene, ranking third with 12%.
It comes as a surprise that the way the dental staff is dressed is not that significant for respondents, since only 4% of them have pointed it out. The state of the bathroom is also taken into account – 3.76% of people think that this is the best indicator for hygienic cleanliness in the dental office.
Top 5 protective equipment dental staff should wear
In order to feel really safe in the hands of their dentist (and other dental pros), people who have taken the survey would like to see them wear: protective gloves (93%), face masks (88%), goggles (61%), disposable coats (46%) and shoe covers (39%). Caps (16%) and shields (15%) are obviously not considered essential must-haves.
Reality check: During their last dental visit, more than 90% of respondents share that their dentists wore gloves and masks, 62% – goggles, 46% – disposable coats, and 35% – shoe covers. Caps and shields were significantly more rarely part of their outfit, which is a serious lapse on the side of dentists, given their next-level protective power.
Theory & Practice
Amidst the COVID outbreak, dental offices around the world have received updated safety guidelines. They say that dental care can be provided safely even in pandemic times. Dentists and professional associations have lobbied that oral care is an essential service – hence people should not be deprived of access to it or refrain from it out of fear.
It all sounds good. In order to ensure this in practice, however, both dentists and patients should be consistent and mindful of hygiene, personal protection, and foremost – personal responsibility. Stay safe and healthy!