Reusing disposable items: saving money or risking cross-contamination?

Reusing disposable items: saving money or risking cross-contamination? – 15th October, 2015

There is no doubt that the cost of infection control or prevention protocols, equipment, and supplies eats away at the bottom line in dental practices. Dentists don’t have the ability, as in some other health-care settings, to charge a separate fee for supplies. Therefore, this cost is either included in the fees for services or it adds to the overhead, thus decreasing profitability.

There are many strategies that dental teams can implement to help reduce this cost, such as scheduling more treatment per appointment for patients, thus reducing the number of appointments needed to complete treatment. Working with dental supply companies to obtain the best pricing on equipment and supplies is another strategy. Reusing disposable items, however appealing it may be, is not a good strategy.

The types of disposable supplies that are frequently reused (inappropriately) are items such as suction tips, prophy cups and brushes, air/water syringe tips, and burs. Many times these items are placed in an ultrasonic cleaner to remove debris and then placed in a high-level disinfectant/sterilant, commonly referred to as the “cold sterile.” These items can be very difficult to clean, especially burs and air/water syringe tips. If the items are not free of debris, they cannot be adequately disinfected or sterilized. These items can then pose a risk of cross-infection when used on a subsequent patient.

Items that are labeled as disposable are meant for one-time, one-patient use. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines these types of devices as single-use devices or SUDs and has expressed concern regarding the reuse of these devices as a cost-saving measure. A little-known fact regarding the reuse of single-use items is that the FDA requires health-care facilities to ensure that a reprocessed single-use device is “as safe and effective as it was when originally manufactured.”

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