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The Tulsa Aftermath: Talking to Your Patients about Infection Control

The Tulsa Aftermath: Talking to Your Patients about Infection Control
  • Bob Alaburda
  • Apr 10, 2013

The conversation is inevitable. In the wake of the recent Hepatitis/HIV scare caused by a Tulsa, OK, dentist, patients are going to ask what you’re doing to protect them from infection and cross-contamination.


Each dental professional has his or her own particular patient education routine, but how comfortable are you letting your patients see behind the scenes and into your infection-control protocol? It’s one thing to talk to the patient about his or her oral health. It is often more difficult to talk about yourself.


Since most clinicians have never been asked these questions by their patients before, here are a few tips to handle the situation effectively.

Make patients feel comfortable.

It is important to remember that patients are coming to you with these questions because they are scared, and it’s not their fault. Patient anxiety associated with the dentist is already higher than other medical professions, without worrying about whether you’ll contract a fatal disease during a routine appointment.


While there’s no magic bullet for patient anxiety, the best approach is to reassure patients that you are willing to address any concerns they may have before, during, or after treatment. Every concern they keep bottled inside adds to their apprehension, so establishing ahead of time that it’s okay to have these discussions will hopefully help the patient open up.

Keep it simple.

Patients don’t need (or necessarily even want) to know exactly what strains of bacteria your disinfecting wipes kill or the complete history of your autoclave. You don’t have the time, either. Overwhelming patients with scientific jargon can just leave them further confused and more stressed.


While doing your best to answer any specific questions, keep your focus on the protocols you follow to meet or exceed CDC standards. Point out and explain the purpose of the products and equipment you use, if possible. It’s an easy and visual way for patients to understand that your office is taking the proper measures to keep them safe.

Let patients know what to look for.

It’s important to remember that you’re not the last dentist—or healthcare professional in general—that your patients will see. Providing patients with a simple list of things to look for and questions to ask of their other healthcare providers will help them feel a sense of control that can gird against anxiety.


After all, what makes the Tulsa situation so scary is that usually patients simply do not know what the clinician is supposed to be doing. Educating patients is the best way to eliminate the fear of the unknown.

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