In harm’s way: Breaches in infection control protocols are baffling, seemingly contrary to our vows

By Lory Laughter, RDH, BS, MS

There aren’t many things in life that baffle me anymore. When you’ve lived over half a century, the uncommon becomes commonplace. I’ve always considered my acceptance of every level of weird as a good thing, even, perhaps, as a bit of maturity showing. I’ll admit I still struggle with the ideas of adults who don’t flush public toilets and people who swim with sharks, but other than that, my head does not shake much. That is, until the recent events regarding dental hygiene programs and private dental offices showed an almost uncaring attitude for patient safety. I do not make this statement lightly and the blame does not lie solely with these entities.

I remember a ceremony around the time of my graduation during which we repeated an oath as new health-care professionals. I don’t remember all the words as it was over 23 years ago, but I distinctly recall a reference to serving the public and making the health needs of the population a top priority. As I am sure most dental professionals, including educators, dentists, and assistants, take a similar oath, it confuses me when information comes to light showing a total disregard for patient safety.

Today I read a rant on social media about a dental office with a nonfunctioning autoclave. The obvious answers to their dilemma appear to be a) cancel patient treatment until the autoclave is repaired and spore tested, or b) use the autoclave of a nearby friendly office and perhaps postpone some patient visits in order to accommodate the break. Instead, the dentist-owner took dirty instruments home and boiled them in a pot on his stovetop for 20 minutes. Many dental hygienists who commented on social media were disgusted and appalled, and rightfully so. Yet, a few were OK with the idea in the short term, although their replies were quickly deleted. Several mentioned an OSHA violation, which it probably is, but more importantly, it should come to the attention of the health department because patient health is at risk.