A national survey of dental hygienists' infection control attitudes and practices

Tracy B King, Kathleen B Muzzin
Journal of Dental Hygiene: JDH 2005, 79 (2): 8

PURPOSE: The objectives of this study were to: 1) investigate the infection control practices of practicing dental hygienists, 2) document the attitudes and practices of dental hygienists toward patients with infectious diseases, and 3) determine if professional affiliation affected the attitudes and/or practices of the respondents.

METHODS: A 49-item survey consisting of eight demographic, nine attitudinal, and 32 practice questions was used for this study. A stratified sampling method was used, in which the United States was divided into four regions. Three states were selected from each region according to geographic location and population. Five percent of registered dental hygienists within each selected state were randomly selected for inclusion in the study. All analyses were conducted using the Statistical Package for Social Scientists (SPSS v.10, Chicago, IL).

RESULTS: Of the 2,009 surveys mailed, 104 were undeliverable. A total of 856 completed surveys were returned from practicing dental hygienists for a response rate of 44.9%. Overall, this study found an increased use of barriers and personal protective equipment in comparison to previous studies. A majority of respondents (53.9%) felt that treating patients with HIV or AIDS increased their personal risk for contracting the disease. The majority of respondents also reported always using extra precautions with HIV/AIDS patients (63.5%) and hepatitis patients (60.1%). In addition, most respondents reported they would not use an ultrasonic scaler when treating HIV/AIDS (65.8%) or hepatitis (58.9%) patients, indicating an alteration in clinical practice habits.

CONCLUSION: The majority of dental hygienists surveyed reported altering infection control practices and treatment techniques when treating HIV/AIDS or hepatitis patients. While there has been an improvement in compliance with recommended infection control guidelines, practitioners still have misconceptions, and possibly fear, regarding infectious diseases and disease transmission.

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