In Sydney, Australia, more than 11,000 dental patients are currently at risk of contracting HIV and hepatitis after dental hygienists throughout the city unknowingly used improperly-cleaned equipment.
According to a July 1 Yahoo News article, 12 dentists from four surgeries have been accused of improper cleaning and equipment sterilization practices.
Late last year, patient complaints prompted an investigation into Gentle Dentist, a local network of dental clinics, which discovered the poor cleaning protocol. So far, the investigation has resulted in six dentists’ licenses being suspended, and another six dentists have had special conditions placed on their licenses. In December, the investigation ordered Dr. Robert Starkenburg’s practice to close.
Over the last 10 years, approximately 11,250 patients have undergone invasive dental surgeries at Gentle Dentist clinics.
New South Wales Health is now advising all patients who visited these clinics to get blood tests for HIV as well as Hepatitis A, B and C. During checkups and surgeries, dental hygiene products and equipment can cause the gums to bleed slightly, which is how diseases could have been transmitted via this equipment.
So far, no cases of either illness have been reported. These recommendations are merely precautions for most patients, as NSW Health director of health protection Jeremy McAnulty explained that the risk of transmission was low for those who had gotten simple dental hygiene checkups. Most of the risk lies among individuals who had undergone invasive dental surgeries.
“It’s important to stress we have no evidence of infection at this point, that no transmission has occurred,” McAnulty said. “We are hopeful there won’t be transmissions and the risk is thought to be low, but it’s best for people to know their status because there are treatments available for infections.”
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