A major health scare in Tulsa, Okla., is shedding light on how states regulate dental offices.
Thousands of former patients of an oral surgeon in Tusla were notified last month that they should be tested for exposure to hepatitis B and C, as well as HIV, after possibly being treated with contaminated dental instruments. Officials say the dentist may have been using insufficiently sterilized and rusty tools in his practice creating the risk of infection.
So, how do you know if your dentist is maintaining the highest standards of cleanliness? According to Dr. Harvey Wigdor, chair of the Department of Dentistry at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, patients should ask questions and be their own advocate.
“Nearly 70 percent of offices in Illinois are operated by single providers, so it can be very difficult to implement strict oversight,” Dr. Wigdor says.
Dr. Wigdor says the Illinois State Board of Dental Examiners sets and defines standards for safe dental practices, because of this they can enforce sanctions for those who practice below the accepted standards set by the board.
Additionally, he says professional groups, like the Chicago Dental Society, the Illinois State Dental Society, and the American Dental Association, offer educational resources, but not regulatory oversight.
The best way for patients to protect themselves is to pay attention at the dentist’s office and to ask questions, Dr. Wigdor says. If patients do have complaints, they can file them with their local health department.
“Ask your dental provider about the methods used for sterilization of instruments,” he says. “Most will be happy to tell you how they sterilize. And, during your visit, watch to make certain all instruments for your exam and treatment are wrapped in blue sterile wrapping.”
Dr. Wigdor advises patients be proactive in their care and make certain they have a sense of security and confidence in their dental care provider.