I was thinking about two types of professionals - umpires and dentists - as I read recent stories about dentistry in the Arizona Daily Star and followed them in other media outlets.
It's rare for dentistry to make the front page of our hometown newspaper. And for it to be a topic of national news for more than a week only happens once in a long while.
To me the topic of infection control in the dentist's office is like umpires in baseball: No one notices the umpires until they make what is perceived to be a "bad call" and then, all of a sudden, they are on the front page of the sports section. One or two umpires/dentists may make a bad call, and all of the umpires/dentists are put under a microscope.
News of questionable infection control procedures in a dental office in Tulsa, Okla., and here in Marana ("HIV, hepatitis scare affects 174 treated at Marana dental clinic," Arizona Daily Star, April 18, 2013) make it an ideal time to talk about how you can keep you and your family safe.
First off, as a dentist and delegate of the Arizona Dental Association, I can tell you that dentistry welcomes any and all questions that folks have concerning their dental health. Contact the AzDA at 1-800-866-2732 or visit its website at www.azda.org
I hope those who have read accounts of the incidents notice just how many organizations were involved in exposing the story. Dentists in the United States must take infection control very seriously. The diseases we are talking about can become a larger problem, as they may not manifest themselves until much later.
As I tell my patients, every dentist in the U.S. is acutely aware that if they do not follow the rules, regulations and guidelines for infection control, they can expect repercussions. Dentists can face penalties such as suspension or loss of license if someone gets sick or is injured. Malpractice suits are always a possibility if the omissions are deemed egregious and restitution to the patient is ruled appropriate.
So, as a patient, be your own advocate. If you think the office is dirty, go somewhere else. If you notice the dentist or staff not changing into new gloves or disinfecting or washing their hands, speak up.
And, as we are very close to the border, realize that the strict guidelines and penalties for infection control in the U.S. do not exist in Mexico. Practitioners are not held to the same standards, penalties and transparency, such as media exposure, as we are here.
A poor dental restoration affects only one person, but a communicable disease can affect a family and a community.
But also realize that dentists are just like umpires. Most of the time you only hear about the bad call and not the millions of times we have safely cared for our patients.
Enjoy the journey,
On StarNet: Read Bob Oro's recent columns at azstarnet.com/boboro
E-mail Bob Oro at firstname.lastname@example.org