What to look for to ensure safety at your dentist

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CHICKASHA, Okla. - As the State Dentistry Board investigates an oral surgeon, we are learning more about the telltale signs of a dirty dentist.

Dr. W. Scott Harrington is accused of using unsanitary practices at his Tulsa area offices, potentially exposing some 7,000 patients to HIV and Hepatitis.

He's also accused of allowing dental assistants to perform IV sedation on patients.

The dentist office in Tulsa under a lot of scrutiny appeared to be pretty clean.

So how do you know what to look for while sitting in that dentist’s chair?

We've found out a couple of questions you can ask as well as a few tips.

For many people, the thought of going to the dentist can be more painful than a toothache.

Nicole Fewell said she is comfortable in the dental chair because she is confident in the dentist she chose to give her veneers.

"We've been all over the country and I've got family members who use different dentists but I've just always come back to him,” she said.

It's not just a matter of comfort; it can also mean your safety.

"The biggest challenge in all this is there is a certain level of trust,” Dr. John C. Phillips, III said, with 29th Street Dental Care. “As a patient you need to feel comfortable asking questions. If you don't get the response you’re looking for, ask why and still if you don't, that may be the time to find another dentist."

Questions like how your dentist cleans dental equipment and tools; by law, every dental office must abide by strict sterilization procedures.

"We have our instruments come through here,” Dr. Phillips said. “They're pre-cleaned with ultrasonic, they're rinsed and then we have a cold sterile and an autoclave which is hospital-grade sterilizing."

But that doesn't mean all dentists use it.

That's where you as a patient must be proactive and ask questions.

“If you go to your dentist and they don't want to show it to you, that would be red flag number one,” he said.

Ask to see the sterilization room where tools should be sterilized and bagged.

Another thing to look for is what is known as a cassette system; a sterile kit of dental tools.

"When they come out of the sterilizer and there's nothing that's going to handle them,” he said. “When we open them up, they're ready to be used on a patient."

Free and clear of anything harmful to staff members and patients.

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