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Risk of contracting HIV in dental surgery discovered to be low

27 September, 2006

The risk of contracting HIV in the dental surgery, whether from an infected dentist or from contaminated instruments, is extremely low.

The risk is so low that if quantified, it would be less than 1/1000th of 1 percent. However the risk is not zero.

Dentists in Australia have undertaken extensive training in infection control matters. Australian public health guidelines have set a standard of practice in infection control quality that is the envy of countries across the world. In addition, checks on quality of infection control exist in all States and Territories so that the high standards set by the guidelines are actually achieved.

Dentistry in Australia has led the way on infection control protocols to ensure that the risk of patient infection is close to zero – absolute minimum risk. Instituting these high standards has been costly, but this has been a priority in the Australian health system and strongly supported by the ADA.

The recent action taken in Queensland, where a dentist contracted HIV, demonstrates the high standards set in Australia in dentistry. Firstly, all dentists are expected to know their HIV status and if positive are expected to report this to the health department. This is exactly what this dentist did. The dentist behaved in an extremely ethical and responsible manner. Secondly all dentists, whether in government service or in private practice, have an obligation to practise abiding by strict infection control protocols. The ethical behaviour of the dentist would indicate strict adherence to infection control procedures.

Queensland Health has ordered a ‘look-back’ of all patients seen by the dentist. This is commended, though there is no indication that any patient was ever at risk or that any transmission of HIV could have occurred in this case.

Stringent infection control measures employed by Australian dentists, and high quality disease surveillance in Australia, means there have been no transmissions of any blood borne virus by a dentist or in a dental surgery in Australia since these protocols have been established in the late 1980's.

Infection control is strongly supported and promoted by the ADA as patient care is paramount. The organisation's thoughts are with the infected dentist whose courage and ethics are commended. 

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