BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - As if many of us are not already afraid of the dentist, an Oklahoma dentist busted for not sanitizing his instruments and reusing needles has given people another reason to cringe.
The recent bust of an Oklahoma dentist accused of using unsterile instruments and exposing patients to HIV and Hepatitis has those in the dental community in shock.
"It's really unheard of in our profession for this to happen," said a local dentist.
Using unsterile instruments and equipment exposes patients and staff to all kinds of disease.
"The ones we're really concerned about are Hepatitis B, HIV and Hepatitis C," said Dr. Claudia Jonah or the County Public Health Department.
Local dentist and prosthodontist, Dr. Peter Bae, said most dentists are vigilant about sanitation.
"We are constantly making sure that anything we touch is sterile or clean," said Dr. Bae.
A clean set of instruments are supposed to be used for each patient. Dr. Bae said his instruments go through a rigorous cleaning process that includes specialized washing and steam cleaning in a disinfecting package.
"We have barrier systems in all our chairs, we spray every surface of the operatory between patients," said Dr. Bae.
Even the sterilization equipment is routinely tested. Patients can ask to see those results and their dentist's sterilization techniques. Also dentists are required to take continuing education course every two years.
"We have to take courses to refresh our understanding of cross contamination and all employees are on board," said Dr. Bae.
The State Dental Board does not conduct routine inspections or compliance checks unless a complaint is made so its up to the dentist to comply and patient to be prudent.
"One way I can give comfort to the patient is to open the package in front of them then they are rest assure these are sterilized," said Dr. Bae.
How can you make sure your dentist is clean and compliant?
Patients can check on their dentists before even leaving the house, by going to the California Dental Board's Website (http://www.dbc.ca.gov/) where you can check to see if there are any complaints or open investigations on your dentist.
And when you go to your dentist's office, don't be afraid to speak up.
Dentists who do not comply with state regulations on health safety and sanitation can lose their license.