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All About Universal Precaution

Creative Commons Image (flickr)
Creative Commons Image (flickr)

If you pursue a career as a dental assistant or in any facet of the healthcare field, you will quickly learn about universal precaution. Universal precaution has prevent the spread of many diseases in healthcare settings, and its usage is an absolute requirement as a dental assistant.

What Is Universal Precaution?
Universal Precaution is, at its essence, the practice of treating each patient as though he or she is carrying a bloodborne disease. It became the standard of practice in the late 1980s, at the height of the AIDS epidemic; doctors and researchers quickly realized that they did not know who was carrying this deadly disease simply by looking at them or by considering where or how they lived. Anyone could carry HIV, and they might not even know that they had it. Therefore, everyone had to be considered a potential carrier.

What Are the Practices?
The practices of universal precaution vary depending on how invasive a procedure you are performing. As a dental assistant, your practices will include wearing gloves and masks, washing your hands between patients and anytime you get blood or other bodily fluids on them, and disinfecting all surfaces in a room between patients. You will also need to take precautions against accidental needle-sticks, practice good cough hygiene and dispose properly of all biohazardous materials, including used gloves, bloody gauze and any other disposable materials that have been contaminated by bodily fluids.

Who Does Universal Precaution Protect Against?
By adopting the standards of universal precaution, you not only protect yourself, but you are also protecting your patients. Wearing gloves means that you will not be exposed to your patients’ potentially contaminated blood; washing your hands and donning new gloves (in addition to proper disinfection and sterilization techniques) ensures that your next patient won’t be exposed to a previous patient’s body fluids.

It is important to realize that AIDS or HIV are not the only conditions that you are protecting against by using universal precaution; pathogens such as Hepatitis can be more virulent than HIV and you have to assume that any and all patients can be carrying these diseases.

It is also important to understand that you do not need to take extra precautions with patients who you know are carrying HIV, Hepatitis or other bloodborne illnesses; universal precaution is enough to protect you against these viruses whether or not the patient in question has them. If a patient is known or suspected of carrying an airborne illness, though, such as influenza, measles or tuberculosis, for example, additional precautions might be necessary.

Universal precaution is something that you will learn about in our dental assisting program. This is a vital part of your preparation for any healthcare career, as it will be a matter of policy in any private medical or dental office, hospital, nursing home or other healthcare setting.

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