A sterilization labeling and logging solution

Before COVID-19 brought the hot-button issues related to contamination, sterilization, and the transfer of bacteria and other pathogens by aerosols from patient to patient or clinician to clinician, there had been a host of issues with dental instrument sterilization.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic that swept the United States in the 1980s and 1990s was a pivotal point for

dentistry. The same year that Ronald Reagan signed a presidential executive order creating the first

Presidential Commission on AIDS, a woman named Kimberly Bergalis had two molars removed by Dr.

David J. Acer.1,2 Later, Bergalis accused Acer of giving her HIV. Dental protocols for sterilization came into

question when investigators struggled to figure out how not only Bergalis but five other patients also

became infected with the AIDS virus.3

Similarly, in 2013, a Tulsa, Oklahoma-based dentist was accused of unsterile practices that led to a patient

contracting hepatitis C.4 In 2019, a medical malpractice lawsuit was filed against a Virginia dental office

after the family of a nine-year-old child was treated at the practice with unsterilized instruments.5 In this

case, there were at least 50 patients who may have been affected by those unsafe practices. The same

in Seattle, some 1,250 children were treated with instruments that had not been sterilized.6

COVID-19 transmission brought many questions to dental practices regarding the safe processing of

dental instruments. Dental providers do not set out to intentionally harm anyone, but clinicians have to

be diligent not only in making sure the instruments they use are sterile but also that they have systems in

place to test the efficacy of the sterilization equipment. There also must be fail-safes to prove that those

systems have, in fact, been adequate in the sterilization process. In dentistry, we must be ahead of the

curve, looking for potential hiccups in the system that could affect our patients’ safety and/or the safety of our dental practices’ against threats of litigation.



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