Have you ever wondered why the dental office smells like it does? The main reason is to keep you safe. Ever since the contagion of HIV and Hepatitis were understood in the 1980s, dental offices have been required to follow a strict policy of sterilizing instruments and operatories.
Anything that came into contact with the patient, dentist or staff is removed from the operatory. For example, there will be a slipcover where your head touched the dental chair. There are large pieces of tape on the handle of the light above the chair. All tissues, gauze and other disposable items are thrown away.
All instruments are taken on a tray to the sterilization area. This is a section of the office that is dedicated for this purpose. All the dental instruments and handpieces with dental turbines are scrubbed and sterilized. Most are sent through a process that uses chemicals and high temperatures to disinfect everything. When working with sharp instruments, many offices require staff members to add a second set of gloves as they “do the dishes.” One stick of a needle into an assistant’s finger can be frightening and possibly dangerous. Prevention for their safety is always on their mind as they work.
All surfaces in the operatory are sprayed or wiped with a disinfectant: countertops, x-ray equipment, computer keyboards and vinyl chairs. It usually takes a minute or two to dry.
The next step is to add protection for the next patient. New slipcovers are added to the dental chair, new barriers for the light and keyboard. Of course, gloves and masks are also an important level of protection for the patients and for the caregivers.
If you have questions about the specifics or your dental office, be sure to ask at your next appointment.