Patient Safety in the Dental Office – 3 Questions to Ask


A Culture of Patient Safety is an important element of any business that serves our community and dental offices are no exception; as patient safety is critical to quality oral health care. Providing a safe environment is one way dentists can help their patients relax and have a good experience during dental appointments.

There are several areas where patient safety can be compromised during invasive surgical procedures as well as simple cleanings that can create unintended risk to patient care. Often times, the consumer is unaware and often exposed to unnecessary risk during dental visits because there are no clear regulatory controls, there is difficulty inspecting facilities, and there are uncertain guidelines.

Today, I would like to focus on the three areas of most potential risk to patients when visiting the dental office that include: water line cleanliness, anesthesia or sedation training and office protocols, and sterilization of instruments. Attention to these areas is important in order to build a culture of safety in the dental office.

Here are 3 questions you can ask your dentist to better understand how they are keeping you and your family safe while you’re in their care.


Q. What is done to keep the water used during my procedure clean and safe?

Many people don’t realize that dental waterlines have a physical problem of flowing water and stagnant water in small tubes. The result is a biofilm that develops on the inside wall of the tube much like a coronary artery that develops plaques. The water and fragments of this biofilm can contain bacteria harmful to humans.

Assessing water line cleanliness is the first step to making sure water is safe. Microscopic testing of water from each point of delivery (for example, each dental chair) is one way to periodically check water safety.

If results of a microscopic water test are greater than 100 colony forming units, an aggressive remedy is performed. Water tubing and lines are cleaned, evaluated and the water retested until it tests below 100 colony forming units.

While not mandatory, additional patient safety measures can be taken:
• Daily procedures to drain water bottles and lines of fluid reduces bacteria counts.
• Using standalone water bottle delivery rather than municipal water insures connections and maintenance can be done.
• Adding additional chemicals to further treat the water and maintain the lines are also ways to improve water quality.

It is important to understand that water used during dental surgeries is from a sterile source and of the highest grade of purity. Surgical irrigation is not subject to the same issues as usual dental water for cleanings and routine dental procedures.


Q. What anesthesia – sedation training do the doctor and team have?

Medications administered orally or through an IV line can have life threatening consequences, allergy, anaphylaxis, over sedation and medication interactions are just a few issues that require swift management. The doctor should train beyond the scope of sedation provided in the office to ensure patient safety.

Doctors providing moderate sedation for their patients have current Advance Cardiac Life Support certification and provide their dental boards with documentation that they treat more than just a few patients each year. Team training includes Basic Life Support certification and periodic practice of emergency and urgent care scenarios. Equipment and drugs are periodically evaluated and up to date.

Monitoring is done by a 3rd clinic person during sedation. Blood pressure, EKG, Oxygen- (pulse oxymeter), and heart rate are a few of the vitals that are recorded and evaluated continuously while sedation is provided.

While not a requirement, having a membership in a national anesthesia organization, like American Society of Dental Anesthesia helps practitioners stay up to date on methods and research in the field. Also, while not required, having a 3rd party that can work with the dental team in their own office can provide valuable critique and education on urgent care management.

Related Article: Sedation Dentistry Options


Q. Are Items sterilized that touch body fluids- like saliva and blood?

Hand pieces, drills, surgical instruments, hygiene cleaning instruments (scalers) are examples of must-sterilize items that can protect patients from infection. Items can be Steam Autoclaved, Chem Claved, or Cold sterile. Various types of treatment of instruments depend on the type of equipment or materials. Items that come in contact with blood or saliva are also sterilized after use.


Today’s dental office has far fewer risks than even 10 years ago. However, risks can be greatly be reduced by preparing, planning and having consistent patient safety processes in place. Convergent Dentistry makes a culture of safety a way of life in their dental office and patients can be assured they are being well treated because safety is our priority.

To learn more about Convergent Dentistry, Click HERE.

Call Convergent Dentistry at 913-491-9119 or click here to schedule a consultation, or tour our office and see why other patients across the Midwest have joined the Convergent Dentistry Family in Leawood, Kansas.

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