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Dentist Dilemma

Question: 

When I was at the dentist today, I was rushed into the room right after another patient because they were running behind on their schedule. The assistant seemed a little new and a little apprehensive. I am not sure if the dental equipment was changed out or sterilized because they were just fixing one thing on my tooth - however it is generally a clean dentist office. While the dentist was working on me, he ask the assistant if something was sterile. She said no and then he continued to work. I wasn't exactly sure what he was referring too.

While he was working, he filled my teeth with an abrasive floss and it cut my gums and I was bleeding. When I left the office I was nervous that the equipment used in my mouth was not sterile and I could have the been exposed to HIV or other diseases. I called the dental office and told them that I was nervous and wanted to know what they were referring to when he said no to something being sterile. I talked to the assistant and she said that he was asking if the piece of floss (abrasive metal) was sterile, she said no because it was from the former patient and she said that she gave him a clean one. I am paranoid that they are not being truthful, that he could have accidentally used the other patients equipment and/or he touched it and it was rubbed against my bleeding gums. I understand that the patient prior to me would have to have HIV, that the same equipment would have had to be used, and that it would have had to go into my bloodstream (i was bleeding) for me to get HIV, however I still feel very nervous about this.

Can you please let me know if this is even possible. If there was HIV+ pathogens/blood on the abrasive floss that cut my gums, would it have died when it was sitting on the counter for 3 min or so?

Thank you for you help.

Answer: 

Hi There, Thanks for coming to the AIDS Vancouver Helpline for your questions.

First of all, I wanted to congratulate you on taking ownership of your health and being mindful of blood borne pathogens, by actually phoning the dentist's office and inquiring about your experience. This showed that you are interested in knowing the facts. Furthermore, it reminds dentists that they need to vigilant with their safety habits.

There may be a case for carelessness on the part of the dentist's part, there are some facts to consider which made this specific incident **negligible risk ** which means that while there is case in theory however, there has never been a single reported case.

In your example, the fact that the instruments and blood were exposed to air (as HIV dies within seconds once exposed to air), the risk is reduced significantly. To your point, equipment that rubs alongside your gums is not the same as direct access to the bloodstream which may not have occurred in your example. If you are still feeling at ease, the best thing you can do is get tested. Getting an HIV (as well as other blood related such as Hepatitis) tests might help to alleviate some of your concerns. The great news is that since HIV education has become in the forefront in medical and dental training, we are not seeing many cases of HIV transmission.

Let us know how things go regards Jaz Helpline Volunteer