Dental Unit Water Lines and Gold Stars
Dental unit water lines pose a unique problem in the dental industry. Splatter from patient’s mouths can contaminate waterlines and, if not properly maintained, can lead to cross contamination, illness, and in rare cases, death. In April 2016, 20 dental patients in Georgia had to be hospitalized due to infection from contaminated dental unit water used during treatment.
There is currently no mandatory water line testing required in the United States for dental offices. The dental offices themselves are relied upon to take the proper measures to protect their patients. In-office tests can be ordered and performed easily, however results are not required to be shared with any regulatory board or posted in office.
The standard approaches to maintaining dental unit water lines include various chemical solutions, tablets or filters that claim to reduce bacterial load in dental unit water lines. Dental offices may or may not choose test to see if these systems are actually effective, as testing is up to the discretion of the office.
Presently, Loma Linda University School of Dentistry is the gold standard for dental unit water line testing, and results have been compiled from these waterline treatments. The reported success rates of these systems vary, according to the results from Loma Linda, from 72-89%. While we choose to comply with standard operating procedures and perform a chemical shock weekly, that has not been good enough for us.
As most of you already know and have experienced, we use ozonated water instead of distilled or tap water in our dental unit water lines. We have performed successful in-office tests, and we also send samples to Loma Linda for testing.
According to current written American Dental Association standards, acceptable levels are up to 500 CFU/mL- which means bacteria colony forming units per milliliter of water. Does that seem like a lot to anyone else?! This is the current standard for drinking water. The problem with dental unit water lines is not contamination from the water source, but contamination from patient’s saliva.
We were thrilled and not at all surprised when we got our test results back. We passed. But not simply below the threshold of 500 colony forming units per milliliter, but a solid ZERO CFU/mL. Ozone is a powerful antimicrobial and because we use it continually in our waterlines, there is no contamination of waterlines in our office. Our in-office testing also gave us negative results, but we wanted the gold standard testing service- and they sent us a certificate with gold stars. Who doesn’t love getting gold stars?
We are so happy to share these results with you! Be assured we have and will continue to ensure we go above and beyond for the health and safety of our clients.