Wet, used towels left in the gym. Dirty tissues discarded by someone suffering from a nasty cold. You wouldn't think of touching these items. But unknowingly, you may be sharing something that could be just as filthy and potentially dangerous when you visit a dental office. Infection control specialists call this cross contamination.
When an unsterilized bib chain is placed around your neck, you may be exposed to dangerous pathogens including pseudomonas, E. coli and Staph aureus - the most common cause of staph infections and a potential "superbug."
Noel Kelsch, a national infection control columnist, Registered Dental Hygienist and former President of the California Dental Hygienists' Association, conducted a study on various types of dental chains and clips after seeing debris falling from a chain she had planned to use to protect her uniform at lunch. What she found led her to write an article titled "Don't Clip that Crud on Me" for RDH Magazine, a trade publication for dental hygienists.
Cross contamination can occur when a bib chain 'grabs' onto hair or accumulates patients' sweat, make-up, and neck acne, not to mention the oral substances that spray out of the mouth. During a dental cleaning, saliva, plaque and even blood can come in contact with the bib and bib chain. While you might think these types of nasty contaminants won't find their way into your system, all it takes is for you or one of the dental workers to come in contact with them. If you touch your neck after a dental visit and then rub your eye, you may have just cross-contaminated yourself.
"Studies have shown the more cracks, crevices and indentations on a bib chain, the higher the bacterial count. The problem with this when we use the same bib chain with patient, after patient, after patient, the accumulation creates a risk for cross-contamination."
One specific study Kelsch conducted involved taking samples of bacteria found in a major U.S. airport bathroom and comparing them to the bacteria found on a used bib clip.
"What we were trying to do was put across to the public how bacteria-laden a bib clip can be, and what we discovered was, by looking at a bathroom floor at a busy airport, and looking at this bib chain, we got about the same level of bacteria in both of them. This is a risk that everyone needs to be aware of."
As expected, disposable clips and holders opened fresh for each patient, were free from contaminants and posed no cross-contamination threats. "As an advocate for patient safety within the dental profession, one of the most important things I can do is keep patients out of harm's way. By simply educating the public about this possible cross-contamination, we can make an impact and keep our patients out of harm's way."
Her findings echoed a study conducted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Dentistry Oral Microbiology Lab that found bib chains and clips are potential sources of contamination. In sampling 50 bib clips from various hygiene and dental operations, researchers discovered one in five bib clips were contaminated with "significant microorganisms," according to an article in Dental Health Magazine.
"Society is really putting an emphasis on healthier living. If you go out into society now, you can see it everywhere you go. When you go to the grocery store, you'll see that they have wipes for disinfecting the cart; when you go into a gym, they'll supply you with items for helping you keep the equipment safe and free of bacteria. By simply going into your dentist's office and insisting that they use a disposable bib holder, instead of a bib clip, you're eliminating that harm factor."
In addition to providing patients with a safer dental visit, Kelsch says that disposable dental bib holders are critical tools in the fight against the creation of more "superbugs."
"If the infection route is destroyed - specifically, this bib chain is eliminated - we're not going to have the chance of cross-contamination and no disease is going to occur."