This has been a known problem for many years in the dental office.
Wet, used towels left in the gym. Dirty tissues discarded by someone suffering from a nasty cold. You wouldn’t think of touching these items. But unknowingly, you may be sharing something that could be just as filthy and potentially dangerous when you visit a dental office. Infection control specialists call this cross contamination.
When an unsterilized bib chain is placed around your neck, you may be exposed to dangerous pathogens including pseudomonas, E. coli and Staph aureus – the most common cause of staph infections and a potential “superbug.”
Noel Kelsch, a national infection control columnist, Registered Dental Hygienist and former President of the California Dental Hygienists’ Association, conducted a study on various types of dental chains and clips after seeing debris falling from a chain she had planned to use to protect her uniform at lunch. What she found led her to write an article titled “Don’t Clip that Crud on Me” for RDH Magazine, a trade publication for dental hygienists.
Cross contamination can occur when a bib chain ‘grabs’ onto hair or accumulates patients’ sweat, make-up, and neck acne, not to mention the oral substances that spray out of the mouth. During a dental cleaning, saliva, plaque and even blood can come in contact with the bib and bib chain. While you might think these types of nasty contaminants won’t find their way into your system, all it takes is for you or one of the dental workers to come in contact with them. If you touch your neck after a dental visit and then rub your eye, you may have just cross-contaminated yourself.
This is why over ten years ago in my private practice I used an autoclavable (sterilizable) dental bib holder. An example of one is here.
Often these type of holders are preferable (hold better) to the disposable bib contained ones, but it is really the practitioners choice. Here is an example of a disposable bib holder.
In any case, Noel is correct about corss-contamination and dental patients should be aware of what is happening in the dental office - and if, in doubt, ask your dentist.