Dental Unit’s Water: A Threat To Young Patients’ Health

By Dr. Attique ur Rehman

In the state of California, an outbreak was noticed in 30 children who received dental treatment from a local dental center, raising concerns regarding the risks of acquiring bacterial infections from water used at the dentist’s office.

Among the patients treated at the dental center, 7 were hospitalized with serious oral infection and cellulitis.

All of the children had a procedure called pulpotomy (child root canal) and were infected by a rare bacteria “Mycobacterium abscessus” (M. abscessus) from the water used during the procedure. This bacterium is commonly found in the environment, but grows unchecked in stagnant water. Within a dental setting, if the water in the piping of the dental unit isn’t flushed and cleaned, it can harbor the bacteria.

Dr. Zahn stated that, healthy adults who encounter M. abscessus simply flush it away. But children however, who underwent pulpotomy and whose immune system is weak aren’t able to clear the infection.

A similar outbreak was reported in Georgia, where a practice was using tap water for pulpotomy procedures. A total of 20 patients with confirmed or suspected M. abscessus infections had to be hospitalized and required surgical excision and intravenous antibiotics.

The state of California has mandated that water lines be flushed with water for at least two minutes each day and should regularly be disinfected. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommended that the dental unit water quality should be as good as the drinkable water, with bacterial levels of no more than 500 CFU/ml.

The emergence of such cases emphasizes upon the importance of proper maintenance of dental unit waterlines.

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