Most people are aware that spending time in a hospital can expose you to all sorts of infections. However, dental offices can also harbor dangerous bacteria that can cause healthcare-acquired infections (HAIs).
If these offices don’t practice proper safety protocols, patients can be seriously harmed. One potential source of contamination is dental unit waterlines.
The danger of contaminated waterlines
In fact, in 2016, a contaminated waterline at one pediatric dental clinic caused more than 70 children between 2 and 11 years old to suffer serious infections. Virtually all of them had to be hospitalized (some for as long as a month). More than a third required multiple surgeries. Over half lost some of their permanent teeth.
Contaminated waterlines, which deliver water directly into a patient’s mouth during a procedure, are rare and becoming more rarer due to advances in safety protocols. However, if a waterline isn’t cleaned properly, it can become a breeding ground for dangerous bacteria.
Anyone can become seriously ill if they swallow this contaminated water. Children, of course, are even more at risk of serious illness and lifelong complications.
How else can HAIs occur?
Waterlines are just one potential source of infection. Among the others are lapses in:
- Hand hygiene by staff
- Instrument cleaning and sterilization
- Handpiece (the holder for a dental instrument) sterilization
It’s crucial for every dental office to have procedures in place to help ensure that these steps are followed with every treatment of every patient and that all staff members are properly trained. However, any safety measure that relies on human beings to comply is open to errors and lapses.
Symptoms of an HAI don’t always present immediately. In the case of the contaminated waterlines discussed above, the median length of time before symptoms appeared in children was nearly three months. People may not associate their illness with dental work they had weeks or months ago.
If you believe you contracted an HAI due to the negligence of a dental care provider, it’s crucial to ensure that the matter is properly investigated so any at-fault parties can be held liable (and other patients can avoid harm). HAIs caused by inadequate safety practices often affect multiple patients. Your best first step is to seek experienced legal guidance.