Get Back to Basics with These 3 Cleaning Tips for Dental Professionals
If you didn’t realize World Hand Hygiene Day was May 5th, we’ll forgive you. And while it’s not exactly a major Hallmark occasion, it is a useful reminder to all healthcare professionals that the simple act of performing hand hygiene is your number one tool to protect your patients, your team, and your practice from the spread of infection.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that healthcare-associated infections (HCAIs) are the most frequent adverse event in healthcare. These infections cause millions of extra days of treatment and incur billions in additional costs. The good news is there’s an easy solution: hand hygiene. According to WHO, most HCAIs are preventable through good hand hygiene – cleaning hands at the right times and in the right ways.
But there’s bad news, too: The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that on average, healthcare providers clean their hands less than half the times they should.
Fortunately, proper hand hygiene isn’t difficult. It’s just a matter of understanding basic best practices – and implementing those best practices every time you need to wash your hands.
Common Mistakes With Hand Hygiene
In busy dental offices, it’s easy to get lax and develop bad habits about cleaning your hands. It might be because you’re running behind and need to move faster between patients, or it might be that you’re worried about protecting your skin from the damage caused by frequent hand washing or alcohol hand rub use.
Also, because you wear gloves when you work with patients, you may reason that the gloves are adequate for keeping hands clean. That would be a mistake.
Our hands perspire when we wear gloves, creating a damp, warm environment — the perfect breeding ground for harmful bacteria and viruses. These microbes are primed to spread as soon as we remove our gloves. Gloves can also develop micro-leaks, which allow pathogens to reach the skin below.
The CDC says that dental health professionals should perform hand hygiene before putting their gloves on and after removing them. What are some other good hand hygiene habits?
In recognition of World Hand Hygiene Day, we’ll review some of the best practices and most effective tools for keeping your hands germ-free from patient to patient.
1. Everyone Should Clean Their Hands Often and Thoroughly
Even routine dental procedures present opportunities for microbes to jump from clinicians’ hands to the mucous membranes and bloodstreams of patients. Infectious agents lurk on soiled dental instruments and clinical surfaces and can infect dental personnel who handle them. Because everyone in your practice is at risk of both catching and spreading infection, everyone is responsible for good hand hygiene.
As a dental professional, your day should start with a thorough one-minute scrub. You should perform hand hygiene again:
- When your hands are visibly soiled.
- Before you put on gloves.
- After you remove gloves.
- Whenever gloves are torn or punctured.
- Before and after eating.
- After using the bathroom.
If you’re using soap to clean your hands (more on the choice of cleaning product below), wet your hands with warm — but not scalding — water. Rub your hands together, hitting every part, for at least 15 seconds. Be sure to rinse and dry your hands thoroughly and turn off the faucet using a disposable towel.
If you’re using an alcohol-based rub, follow the manufacturer’s directions. Apply the rub to your dry hands and rub thoroughly for at least 15 seconds, until your hands are dry again.
For surgical procedures, you’ll need to extend hand hygiene to your forearms, scrubbing for two to six minutes before drying and donning surgical gloves.
2. Choose the Right Hand Hygiene Product for the Job
Pharmacies and grocery stores abound with hand hygiene products of every color, consistency, and scent. But ignore the bevy of over-the-counter products and always rely on products manufactured specifically for use by dental professionals.
These products will typically contain active ingredients in quantities that have been proven to work in dental applications. They will also often include moisturizers and emollients specifically formulated to counteract the damage countless hand washings can inflict on the hands of dental professionals.
You have three choices of hand hygiene products:
Dental professionals have been relying on plain soap to clean their hands and wash them free of debris for decades. Plain soap is a good choice when your hands are visibly soiled. Never use bar soap, as it is a notorious harbor for microbes. Also, to prevent cross contamination, never refill soap bottles without first cleaning and drying them thoroughly.
When cleaning with soap and water, be sure to rinse off all traces of the soap and dry your hands thoroughly before donning gloves.
Hand Essentials Lotion Soap by Hu-Friedy is designed for repeated use. Enriched with moisturizing skin conditioners and pH-balanced, it helps dental professionals keep their most important instruments — their hands — in good working condition.
Antimicrobial soap functions like plain soap but contains ingredients that kill microorganisms. The CDC does not say antimicrobial soap is necessary for ordinary procedures. Because it tends to dry out hands more than plain soap, you may want to reserve antimicrobial soap for surgical procedures.
Alcohol-Based Hand Rubs
Alcohol-based hand rubs are a convenient option because they don’t require wetting hands or rinsing them, they dry quickly, and dispensers can be placed in accessible locations, regardless if there is a sink nearby.
Alcohol in sufficient quantities — look for between 60 and 95 percent isopropanol or ethanol — can destroy microbes. But keep in mind, alcohol is useless against debris. For that, you’ll need soap and water.
Experts like the CDC say it’s acceptable to use alcohol-based rubs before putting your gloves on and after removing them. If, however, your hands are visibly soiled after removing your gloves, use soap.
When preparing for surgery, some dental professionals choose to wash their hands first with soap and follow-up with alcohol-based rubs.
Hu-Friedy’s Sterillium Comfort Gel contains 85 percent alcohol, enough to kill 99.999 percent of pathogens within 15 seconds. But while it’s tough on microbes, it’s easy on your skin. Sterillium Comfort Gel is proven to increase skin hydration within a week of regular use. It has passed dermal irritation and sensitization tests with flying colors.
3. Skin Care Is More Than Vanity
When you clean your hands as often as dental professionals do, moisturizing isn’t just about maintaining smooth, attractive skin. It’s a necessary strategy for fighting infection.
When skin is dry, it cracks. Viruses and bacteria can easily slide into skin cracks and lesions, infecting dental personnel. Plus, dry, chapped skin is painful. Infection control experts like John A. Molinari, Ph.D., aren’t talking about looks when they recommend the generous use of hand lotions.
“The discomfort, bleeding, and pain from the irritated hand surfaces has caused many affected health-care professionals to compromise their normal hand hygiene practices,” Molinari wrote recently in Dental Economics.
Again, it’s important to choose products manufactured specifically for dental professionals. For instance, petroleum-based hand lotions can damage latex and synthetic gloves. Store-bought lotions might contain scents that bother patients and colleagues (or to which they might be allergic).
Hu-Friedy Hand Essentials Skin Repair Cream contains Olivamine, a patented blend of ingredients that delivers all the essential nutrients necessary for optimal skin health, including amino acids, vitamins, antioxidants, and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM). It’s specially formulated for dental professionals who wash their hands frequently, helping to block excessive transepidermal water loss (e-TEWL), while providing relief to dry skin.
Happy World Hand Hygiene Day!
Hand Hygiene Day comes just once a year, but good hand hygiene should be a daily practice among dental professionals. By cleaning your hands regularly and properly — using products formulated for the task — you’ll be protecting not only your patients, but your team members, your family, and anyone else you encounter throughout your day.