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Gainesville dental experts urge patients to question dentists’ sterilization

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After a case in Oklahoma broke this week of a dentist potentially exposing his patients to infectious diseases, Gainesville dental experts urge patients to take note of how their dentists sanitize instruments.

Letters sent to W. Scott Harrington’s patients in Tulsa, Okla., said “practices were discovered which may have exposed patients to infectious material.”

Oklahoma state officials sent letters to about 7,000 patients after a patient was found to be possibly contaminated with hepatitis C, The New York Times reported. Harrington gave up his dental license voluntarily.

Officials found Harrington’s office was not complying with sanitization standards. The Oklahoma Board of Dentistry found rusty instruments and expired medication.

Richelle Janiec, assistant director for clinical operations at the University of Florida College of Dentistry, said she was unfamiliar with the case but she doesn’t think something like this is “a common occurrence.”

She said typically instruments would be sterilized, but she said patients should “definitely be interested in what their [sterilization] practices are.”

“I might ask,” she said, “‘What do you do to prevent the spread of infection?’ … Instruments that are used in the mouth must go through a sterilization process before they are returned to use in practice. That is a must.”

Charmaine Godwin, who teaches in Santa Fe College’s dental program, said it shouldn’t be difficult for dentists to keep their tools sterile.

“Cleanup is really easy,” she said.

Godwin also said dentists should “use disposables as much as possible,” but when they don’t, they should be sure to clean their tools after every patient.

“Do a disinfection, wipe everything down,” Godwin said, “and you’re ready to set up for the next patient.”

Andrew Pantazi wrote this story online.

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