Editor's note: This is the second in a series of articles in which we will bring in an expert to address some of the misinformation we have read in various social media posts and groups. You can read the initial installment discussing needlesticks here.
Q: Our office is closing for the holiday break. Should we remove the dental unit water bottles before we leave?
A: Great question! The short answer is yes, but there may be different procedures depending on the waterline maintenance product you’re using. It’s also important to understand why the bottles should be removed.
Dental unit waterlines (DUWL) should have comprehensive protocols to maintain, test, and monitor the bacterial load to prevent adverse patient events. DUWL tubing is very small, and it leads to bacterial biofilm growth that can begin in as little as 24 hours. This biofilm has been known to carry harmful pathogens like Legionella and Mycobacterium abscessus that can travel through the water and make patients sick or cause even worse outcomes.
One of the biofilm growth factors has to do with the flow of the water in the DUWLs. Bacteria grow faster in slow flow or no flow environements, so letting your lines sit for anything longer than 24 hours promotes biofilm growth. Once biofilm begins to grow, it’s hard to get rid of it, because it produces a slime layer that protects the bacteria and helps shields it from chemical disinfectants.
Whenever the office is closed for longer than a day, the water bottles should be removed, cleaned, and left to dry if you’re using waterline tablets. The lines should also be purged so there isn’t water sitting in them over that extended period of time. For example, according to A-dec, a very common brand of dental unit water bottle, using a mild detergent and bottle brush to clean the bottle is best. You can also use a chemical shock treatment to disinfect the interior surface of the bottle, but you need to follow the instructions for the shock product you’re using. In the article linked above, A-dec discourages using bleach, hydrogen peroxide, or isopropyl alcohol products with their bottles.
If your office does not use A-dec equipment, it’s important to look up the instructions for use on water bottle maintenance to ensure the correct disinfecting procedure.
The waterline break procedure differs slightly if your office uses a waterline straw cartridge. For example, according to Crosstex, the manufacturer of DentaPure cartridges, a common filter used in dental offices, the water bottle should be emptied and put back on the unit during the break. The water bottle cleaning takes place when you return and before fresh water is added to the bottle. Once again, if your office uses a different brand of straw filter, find those instructions for use and follow them.
Holiday breaks are great for dentists and team members, giving everyone much needed time off with family, but preparing for a break can prevent issues upon return. Keep your office running safe and smooth by following the manufacturer’s instructions for your dental equipment.