Tags Posts tagged with "Infection Control"

Infection Control

Dental Patient Rights
©Candybox Images/Shutterstock.com

I got an email yesterday from a reader named Harris, who stated, “I paid $5000 to replace a broken crown. The dentist did not tell me what the cost would be until he had already started the procedure.”

Harris wanted to know what kind of rights he had as a dental patient when you’re not told the cost of dental treatment in advance.  I told Harris that it is generally accepted that a dental patient has a right to know an estimate of the cost of a procedure before treatment begins.

I’ve received many other questions about dental patient rights in the past, and I thought that it would be a good time to discuss the rights of a dental patient. I have listed below what I believe to be 20 core rights that every dental patient deserves, and I’ll probably use something similar to this as the patient bill of rights in my future dental practice.

Dental Patient Rights

Dental Patient RightsKeep in mind that these are not legally-binding rights, although they are good recommendations for a dentist to establish a positive, successful relationship with his or her patients.

I have provided links to many other dental patient bill of rights at the end of the article if you want to take a deeper look into the world of dental patient rights.

The Right to Choose Your Dentist

You have a right to choose your own dentist.  Many dentists have different philosophies regarding the best treatment and you have the right to choose the dentist with whom you feel most comfortable.

The Right to Quality Dental Treatment

You have a right to receive treatment that meets or exceeds the accepted dental standard of care.

The Right to Know the Education and Training of the Dental Team

You have a right to know about the education and qualifications of the entire dental team, including the dentist, dental hygienist, assistants, and staff.  Many dental practices that believe in lots of continuing education post this information on their practice website.

Most states require that a dentist complete 15-25 continuing education “credits” every year.  You can ask your dentist how many he or she has taken.  Some dentists get by on the minimum, and other dentists take more courses than required.

The Right to a Clean Treatment Environment

The dental team should be using appropriate infection-control and sterilization techniques.

Learn how to tell if your dentist has a good infection control program.

The Right to Confidential Treatment

You have the right to expect that no member of the dental team will discuss your treatment with anyone else unless you authorize it.  This is a right granted under the HIPAA privacy rule.

The Right to Know the Cost of Treatment

You have the right to know how much treatment will cost before treatment begins.  Sometimes we don’t know what we’ll find before we start working on a patient, so it can be difficult to give an exact fee.

If this is the case, the dentist should be able to provide you with an estimate of the fee based on the various outcomes and treatment options.

Curious about dental fees?  Find the average dental fee in your area.

The Right to Know Why You Need Treatment

You have the right to know why treatment is necessary for your particular condition.

The Right to Know Treatment Risks

You have the right to know what risks are associated with treatment as well as the risks of not proceeding with treatment.

The Right to Know Treatment Alternatives

There’s more than one way to skin a cat — You have a right to know what other treatments are available that would also solve your dental problem as well as knowing how long the various treatment alternatives will last.

The Right to Decline Treatment

You have the right to decline treatment if you so desire.  You also have a right to know what may occur if you choose not to accept the treatment that your dentist proposes.

The Right to Know Expected Treatment Results

You have the right to know what the expected outcome of your treatment will be.

The Right to Emergency Dental Treatment

You have the right to receive emergency treatment from your dentist within a reasonable time-frame.  Many dentists set aside a certain amount of time each day to see emergencies.

The Right to Be Treated Respectfully

The dental team should treat you respectfully and considerately.

The Right to Not Be Discriminated Against

You have the right to not be discriminated against.  You should receive quality treatment no matter your ethnicity, sex, religion, disability, or age.

The Right to See the Dentist at Every Visit

You have a right to see the dentist every time you receive dental treatment.  Different states have varying laws regarding this, and thus you can clarify this with your dental office if you wish to see the dentist at every visit.

The Right to Know How to Resolve Disputes

You have the right to know what actions you can take to resolve any disputes that might arise between you and your dentist.  There are many ways to resolve disputes with your dentist.

Dental peer review is one of these means — here’s what it takes to win a lawsuit against your dentist.

The Right to Timely Dental Treatment

If a dentist accepts you as a patient, you have a right to expect that you can make appointments in a timely manner and not have to wait many months before receiving treatment.

Keep in mind that sometimes this is beyond the dentist’s control.  For example, if you require IV sedation or anesthesia in a hospital setting, it may take a long time to schedule your appointment so that you can have all of the health professionals available to provide you with safe, effective treatment.

The Right to a Conversation With Your Dental Team Regarding Your Treatment

You have a right to receive answers to any questions that you may have regarding your current oral health status and your proposed treatment.

You also have the right to discuss any concerns you may have regarding the proposed treatment.

The Right to Your Dental Records

You have the right to have your dental records and x-rays transferred to another dentist of your choice either for free or for a nominal fee.

Learn more about how to get a copy of your dental records.

The Right to Reasonable Accommodations for Your Disability

If you have a disability, you have a right to expect your dentist to make reasonable accommodations.  For example, I have treated patients in their wheel chair when they are unable to move themselves into our clinical dental chairs.

Dental Patient Rights Available Online

There are a number of dental patient bill of rights available online.  My dental school and the ADA have made copies of their dental patient bill of rights available on the internet.  Here’s a few:

It’s interesting to note how Boston University’s dental patient rights differs from the other schools’ since they are a private university and appear to be more selective at accepting patients.

Questions About Dental Patient Rights?

Do you have any questions regarding your rights as a dental patient?  Leave them in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Thanks for reading!

Dentist Infection Control Dental Office
©Tyler Olson/Shutterstock.com

I’m a bit of a germophobe.  Learning in my microbiology class at dental school that there are literally millions of bacteria living on me has helped me cope a little bit, but I still like things to be clean.

Autoclave For Sterilizing Dental InstrumentsWhen I was a kid, I used to love watching the dentist open a new packet of dental instruments to use on me.  I always thought that the instruments were brand new and were being used for the first time on me!  I was wrong.  The staff at the dental office puts the dirty instruments in an ultrasonic bath to remove the debris.  Then, they bag the instruments and put them in an autoclave.  Dentists must test their autoclave periodically to ensure that it is working properly to sterilize the instruments.

But how do you really know if your dentist practices good infection control in his or her office?

Ways to Find Out If Your Dental Office Practices Good Infection Control

1 – Make sure that the dentist and assistant use the following infection transmission barriers:

  • Gloves
  • Protective eyewear – not just for them, but for your eyes as well
  • Face mask (If your dentist sneezes, it won’t let anything out!)
  • A disposable gown or a lab coat

You might not think all of those things are necessary, however dentists who neglect these small things may also neglect the important things like completely sanitizing the dental chair and surrounding area before you are seated.

2 – Look for the dentist/assistant/hygienist to open the dental instruments after you arrive in the operatory. If they are already open when you arrive, they are no longer sterile.  Once the instruments are opened, they are exposed to the surrounding environment.  This includes bacteria found in the air and bacteria from people who may be nearby.


3 – Look for hard-to-clean surfaces to be covered with disposable plastic barriers and for surfaces in the operatory to be disinfected after each patient. This includes the handles on the dental light, the suction and air/water hoses, x-ray unit heads, and the computer keyboard and mouse.  In addition, at my dental school, we provide a disposable head rest cover and we put a plastic barrier on the panel that controls the chair’s movements.  We also put a disposable covering on the countertop.

4 – Make sure that all needles and syringes are discarded in a puncture-resistant sharps container. Usually, these are red or white.  They can be mounted on the wall or sitting in the room.  If you don’t see one, you could ask your dentist or hygienist if they have one.  If they do not, they could be endangering many people by putting infected needles into the public garbage system.

Sharps Container - Photo Courtesy of William Rafti

5 – Notice whether they discard all infectious waste in appropriate containers. Dental procedures that are of a surgical nature can produce a significant amount of potentially hazardous waste.  In addition to the sharps container mentioned above, a dental office should also have an infectious waste container to discard items that were used surgically or are otherwise considered potentially infectious.

6 – Find out whether they heat sterilize (also called “using an autoclave” – this is pictured at the top of the article) all reusable instruments and miscellaneous dental items. You may have to ask one of the staff to find out whether this is being done.  You may also want to ask when they last tested their autoclave to ensure it was indeed sterilizing the instruments properly (this is done on a routine basis  in most offices).

7 – Look for dental staff to change gloves and clean their hands before and after seeing each patient. Make sure your dentist is changing gloves when he or she comes in to see you.  Many dentists keep gloves in the operatory so that you will see them put them on when they come in.  Also, even though gloves are worn, it is necessary for the dental professional to wash or sanitize his or her hands after seeing each patient as it is easy to transfer something from the glove to the hand or vice-versa when changing gloves.

8 – Ask them about their infection control policies. Some dental offices will display their infection control protocols.  This might be seen in the form of a sign on the wall or a poster or pamphlet in the waiting room.  If the information is not readily apparent, find out by asking questions.  Your health is important and any dental office with proper infection control policies in place will be happy to share this information with you to put your mind at ease.

A Quick Quiz

Below you’ll find a picture showing a dental procedure.  Can you spot the infection control violations?

Improper Dental Infection Control | Photo Courtesy of Erik Christensen
A Photo Demonstrating Improper Infection Control in Dentistry

Answer(s): The dental assistant is not wearing gloves, all three aren’t wearing protective eye wear, there aren’t disposable plastic sleeves around the suction the assistant is holding, they aren’t wearing lab coats or gowns, and they aren’t wearing face masks.


Many dentists try their hardest to keep their patients from getting sick after they visit them.  There are some who need improvement in this area.  Hopefully the list above will help you gauge how your dentist is doing.

If you are nervous or unsure about the cleanliness of anything, don’t hesitate to ask your dentist.  You deserve a clean office and sterile instruments.  A dental office should be a place to prevent and cure disease, not catch it!

Do you have any questions or comments about dental infection control?  Please leave them in the comments section below.  Thanks for reading!