The primary obligation and ultimate responsibility of oral healthcare personnel (OHCP) is the timely delivery of quality care in the privacy of a comfortable and safe environment. While the transmission of pathogenic microorganisms in oral healthcare settings is rare, healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) do present a potential hazard to OHCP and patients alike. To prevent or minimize HAIs among OHCP and patients, oral healthcare facilities, like all healthcare facilities, are mandated to develop a written infection control/exposure control protocol predicated on a hierarchy of preventive strategies.
Historically, strategies to eliminate or reduce the risk of HAIs were based on Universal Precautions, i.e., the concept that patients with bloodborne pathogens can be asymptomatic (unaware that they are infectious) and, therefore, all blood and body fluids contaminated with blood were treated as infectious. Today, Standard Precautions (periodically expanded with new evidence-based elements) and Transmission-based Precautions provide the fabric for a hierarchy of preventive strategies to protect both OHCP and patients and apply to contact with blood and all other potentially infectious material (OPIM).
Infection control/exposure control strategies should be appropriate for the oral healthcare setting. As these strategies deviate from optimal design and implementation, the quality (value, outcome) of infection control/exposure control program decreases at an accelerated rate. It is recommended that an Office Infection-Control Coordinator (OICC) be appointed with responsibility for the development and management of the office infection control/exposure control program to ensure that the criteria are relevant, the procedures are efficient, and the practices are successful. However, the creation and maintenance of a safe work environment mandates the commitment and accountability of all OHCP.