Purpose: Limited studies document the infection control practices of dental hygienists and dental assistants even though both groups play a vital role in the prevention of disease transmission in the dental office. The purpose of this study was to survey Rhode Island registered dental hygienists and certified dental assistants to (1) determine their current infection control practices; (2) to document attendance at an infection control course; and (3) to identify the need for additional infection control education.
Methods: In October of 1993 a fixed-response survey was mailed to a random sample of 267 registered dental hygienists (RDHs) and 260 certified dental assistants (CDAs) in Rhode Island. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics, cross-tabulations, and the chi-square statistic.
Results: Responses were received from 171 RDHs and 153 CDAs for adjusted response rates of 64% and 59%, respectively. Most responding RDHs and CDAs were wearing gloves but substantially fewer were utilizing one of the two acceptable combinations of personal protective barriers. Other procedures that were not always practiced by a substantial number of respondents included the use of disposable barriers, following recommended handwashing protocol, utilizing appropriate procedures for disinfection and sterilization of dental instruments and handpieces, updating medical histories, and biological monitoring of sterilization equipment. Although the majority of both groups reported having attended an infection control course within the past year, having written infection control protocols in place, and being satisfied or very satisfied with the level of infection control, many recommended procedures were not practiced routinely.
Conclusions: These findings indicate that lack of compliance with infection control guidelines is multifactorial. Even though there is a need for continuing infection control education for dental hygienists and certified dental assistants, education alone is not the answer.