Working as a dental professional has its perks and rewards just like any other health profession. People come to you for proper oral health. You can be an “artist” at the same time because the job is also an aesthetically-focused practice by taking good care of your patients’ expressions and how they look good smiling in front of a crowd.
Working as a dental professional, however, can put you at serious physical risk. Needlestick/Sharp Injuries (NSI) is a major occupational hazard among dental professionals. During dental procedures, dental professionals are prone to dental syringe/ needlestick and sharp-related injuries. Sharp tools include a sickle probe, a Hollenback carver, and a dental driller. Many dental professionals are aware of the potential accident with needle pricks. This happens when one gets poked by a sharp object after administering anesthesia during the tooth extraction process. Needlestick injuries are associated with other dental procedures as well like recapping of the needle, unexpected movement or jerk by a patient, patient grabbing the dentist’s hand while giving anesthesia, mishandling the disposal of used needles and, accidental passing of the needle by another dental professional in the workplace. Even the changing of the local anesthetic carpule can place dental health workers at risk for NIS.
The risk involved if it is a fresh needle is likely low. It is a different situation, however, if the needle has already been injected to someone with a serious blood-borne disease also known as blood-borne pathogens. These diseases or illnesses can range from hepatitis B, hepatitis C to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). If patients are positive for any blood-borne infections, the risk of exposure to blood-borne pathogens for dental professionals should not be ignored. In any case, a healthy dental professional can get infected. Needle pricks can have a lasting impact on your health and those diseases you can contract can be lifelong and in some cases, fatal.
Despite the awareness, the coverage of workers’ compensation with a needle prick is the number one overlooked coverage by dental professionals. Making workers' compensation claims may initially seem unprioritized by some dental professionals probably because it is a complex process and needle prick injuries in the dental field are the most underreported cases among all medical fields according to some studies. One explanation for this is that there are dental professionals who work in a small dental office or non-hospital settings which give them limited resources to proper injection training and other safety protocols.
Dental professionals, whether a dentist, a dental hygienist, or a dental assistant, may have done necessary actions to reduce occupational exposures to blood and may have taken precautionary measures such as hepatitis B vaccinations, test for serum antibodies, and protective dental equipment, such as wearing gloves, it is still best to be ready at all times. Prevention is always better than cure but no matter how careful you are, you cannot prevent every accident. Occupational hazards are unavoidable in any workplace. When an exposure incident occurs, first aid treatments that are accepted in reducing the risk are recommended. As many studies suggested, wounds from needle pricks should be washed for several minutes with soap and water, or a disinfectant known for reducing the risk of blood-borne illnesses. Wounds should not be rubbed and the pressure above the wound to induce bleeding from the contaminated injury should also be administered.
After first-aid measures are done, it is a requirement to follow these steps:
- File an incident report
- Refer to a Health Care Professional (HCP)
- Have proper documentation
- Provide information to an HCP
- Identify and evaluate the source patient's blood
- Collect and test dental health worker’s blood
- Undergo counseling
- Continue with Post-Exposure Prophylaxis
- Evaluate any other signs of illnesses or complications
- Obtain HCP's written diagnosis
- Keep medical records for future references
Because the field of pharmaceutical science is becoming abreast of the changing times, some illnesses can now be treated efficiently with medicines. Those medicines are expensive especially the ones for blood-borne illnesses. If you have a communicable disease and cannot work, it may be hard to retain health insurance and even control the costs of medical treatments. Apart from the trauma that the exposure may bring to you, it can be tedious to report a needle prick injury to your professional liability insurance provider, fill out forms documenting the accident, and undergo medical evaluation or testing. You are also required to pay for your medical evaluation after the needle prick injury.
This the reason why workers’ compensation should not be overlooked by dental professionals. Generally, workers’ compensation provides medical and wage benefits to people who are injured or become sick at work. The coverage, wage, and medical benefits vary in every state. Workers’ compensation is considered an insurance and an obligation between an employer and an employee. Employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance through purchasing insurance from a registered insurance broker or through self-insurance. Employers can be fined and may face an employee lawsuit if they fail to sustain the required coverage.
Worker’s compensation for dental professionals may cover testing for employees who are exposed to needle prick. Workers’ compensation not only covers national coverage availability, superior claim management, and risk management resources but it also covers needle stick reimbursement. A skilled management adjuster goes to work for you the minute an injury is reported to ensure benefits are paid on time.
Workers’ compensation for needle prick injuries should also cover your lost wages and medical costs. Workers’ compensation may also help you with a transitional job or training for a new career with the same wages. Workers’ compensation may cover the medical expenses related to therapy and other treatments if a dental professional experiences post-trauma.
Though workers’ compensation has different provisions in each state, many workers’ compensation policies include programs and seminars that outline the promotion of health and safety of dental workers, preventing incidents of needle pricks. Improving work conditions, eliminating risky dental practices, and using safer devices are needed to address occupational hazards. The key is knowledge to better understand health and safety in the workplace. NSI prevention strategies for dental professionals should be implemented even in non-hospital settings.
If you are a self-employed dental professional or an independent contractor, the law does not require you to carry a worker’s compensation insurance but you can purchase a policy for yourself for your own protection.