Dental Unit Water Quality: What the CDC Wants You to Know [Part 2]

The CDC has recently released new guidelines pertaining to dental unit waterlines—the plastic tubing that carries water to high-speed handpieces, air/water syringes and ultrasonic scalers. Dental unit waterlines are inherently problematic for several reasons. The waterlines are ideal breeding grounds for bacterial growth and biofilm due to narrow tubing, inconsistent flow and the retraction of oral fluids. There have been several high-profile news stories in recent months about dental offices infecting patients—in some cases children—with bacterial infections. 

In one Southern California case, 14 children were hospitalized with localized dental abscesses that were at risk of infecting nearby bone. The bacteria leading to these infections was directly traced to the office’s waterlines. The county health officer required a complete replacement of the on-site water system to remove the potential threat of infection. In a separate Atlanta-area case, more than a dozen children were diagnosed with a bacterial infection believed to be caused by contaminated water.*

All dental practitioners as well as patients are at risk of health problems if water is not properly treated. The CDC states that all dental units should have a waterline treatment system in place. The system should ensure that water meets drinking water standards, which is ≤ 500 CFU/mL of heterotrophic water bacteria. Water bottle systems alone are not sufficient to treat water; you must treat the waterlines that water travels through.

For more information about the latest CDC guidelines or for in-office staff training on maintenance procedures (for CE credits), please contact your local Hayes office.