Infection control in dental practices

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infection control dental practices
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Kylie Robb is a powerhouse advocate for best practice in infection control standards for every dental practice in Australia. By Frank Leggett

While the global pandemic has brought infection control into the mainstream mindset, it has always been a basic tenet of dentistry. Effective infection control is a duty of care that practitioners utilise to protect patients, staff and themselves from the transmission of bacteria, viruses and fungi. It is imperative that all dental practices implement and ensure compliance with infection control procedures and standards. Failure to do so can lead to serious health risks and disastrous reputational damage to the profession.

During the pandemic, many practices saw a reduction in appointments to manage coronavirus risks in a dental setting. This response was not just around dentistry—it was a sector-wide public health response where state and territory governments had to make quick decisions. 

“At the time, there was a lot of questioning of existing safe systems of work,” says Kylie Robb, head of Practice Services at ADA NSW. By providing education in infection control and clinical governance, she has helped thousands of oral health professionals stay up to date with regulations. “Working with respiratory secretions is a day-to-day occurrence in dental practices, and their infection control requirements were already of a very high standard. For me, it was finding innovative ways for practice teams to be more confident with their infection control programs so they could continue to provide care to their communities.”

Staying safe

In her role at the ADA NSW, Robb is responsible for the oversight of infection prevention and control (IPC) professional guidance and oversees accreditation support for over a thousand dental practices.

“I actually spend the bulk of my time writing content while developing frameworks and resources to help practices achieve their goals,” she says. “At ADA NSW, we’ve developed professional guidance for the profession that takes into account a risk management framework that underpins all infection control decisions.”

A dental practice is a healthcare facility so procedures and standards need to be in place that maintain and enhance the public’s health and safety. From the moment anyone enters the practice, they should be safe. Robb encourages all practitioners to get acquainted with the 2019 edition of the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Australian Guidelines for Prevention and Control of Infection in Healthcare. (Visit NHMRC online at www.nhmrc.gov.au.)

“The Dental Board of Australia requires all practitioners to comply with this key document,” says Robb. 

Up to date

The Dental Board of Australia also has continuing professional development (CPD) guidelines in relation to infetion control for each CPD three-year cycle. Practitioners need to be able to demonstrate contemporary infection control knowledge. “When the regulator arrives to inspect a practice, there is an expectation that the practitioner will assist with answering any infection control-related questions,” says Robb. “This includes demonstrating evidence of the practitioner’s recent attendance to an infection control course.”

Every practice can find ways to improve their infection control programs. I find that once practice teams are across the key concepts, they evaluate their own systems and that empowers them to carry on.

Kylie Robb, head of Practice Services, ADA NSW

Part of the reason why Robb has become an expert in the field is due to a series of infection control breaches across Sydney in 2015. Dentists were inundating ADA NSW, looking for proactive support and help. Robb stepped into the role and put together an Infection Control Framework that has since been applied to hundreds of dental practices.

“I utilised the performance-based data captured from those onsite visits to focus the content for my course, ‘Infection Prevention & Control – Continuing to achieve best practice’,” says Robb. “I focus on high-impact, high-value opportunities and more than 2000 people have now attended the course.” 

System maintenance

It must be remembered that the vast majority of dental practices have effective infection control programs in place. Additionally, many things need to go wrong for an outbreak to occur in a dental setting. The basis of good infection control is to ensure that all parts of the system are maintained and used correctly, whether it’s screening patients, conducting hand hygiene or wearing PPE.

“Every practice can find ways to improve their infection control programs,” says Robb. “I find that once practice teams are across the key concepts, they evaluate their own systems and that empowers them to carry on. We spend a lot of time discussing these principles in my course.”

Working with the WHO 

Robb has many strings to her bow including board director of the Australasian College for Infection Prevention and Control, a Master of Health Services Management in Clinical Leadership, a credentialed infection control professional, and conjoint lecturer for the University of Newcastle’s Faculty of Health and Medicine. One of her proudest achievements was getting a phone call from the World Health Organization’s Western Pacific Regional Office in April 2020.

“They asked me to address their Infection Control Network during the peak of the pandemic,” says Robb. “It was a lot of pressure but it was wonderful to be recognised for my expertise. To have the opportunity to share my knowledge and experience to representatives of a region that is home to 1.9 billion people was amazing. The meeting was hosted in Manila and I ‘zoomed’ in from the ADA NSW headquarters. It was a real career defining moment for me.”

Less is more

Robb is also interested in improving ways to optimise finite and expensive resources in dental practices. This encompasses PPE, the requirement for excessive use of plastic barriers and the generation of large amounts of waste. She sees an opportunity for practices to be more strategic, to do more with less while maintaining quality infection control and safety. The advantages are cost savings, less waste, more environmentally friendly outcomes and more efficiency.

“I’ve heard of dentists throwing out hundreds of dollars worth of gloves every day,” she says. “Gloves are worn when there’s exposure to body fluids and chemicals which is very important. However, there’s no need for dental assistants to be snapping them off every minute. The answer is to work smarter, stay safe and finish the job.” 


ADA NSW launched the Infection Prevention Service in January 2021 to support members with their infection control. This is a free member service where the whole practice team can contact ADA NSW for infection control support.

Phone: 02 8436 9927

Email: practiceservices@adansw.com.au

Web: www.adansw.com.au

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