Latex Precautions in the Dental Setting
Recognizing latex allergies is an important patient safety precaution.
A 43-year-old registered nurse presented to his dentist for a regular teeth cleaning procedure. After several years of daily use of latex gloves and medical supplies, he developed a severe sensitivity to latex that ultimately resulted in anaphylactic reactions to most latex exposures.
Prior to his scheduled appointment, he contacted the dental office and informed the staff about his severe latex allergy. The dental staff made a note in his dental record and prepared the exam room with nitrile gloves. When he arrived, the dental hygienist recommended protective eyewear. The patient asked the hygienist if the foam cushioning around the eyepieces was latex-free. The hygienist could not confirm. The hygienist also failed to note that she placed small rubber bands, which also contain latex, around the handles of her dental instruments.
The hygienist began the procedure. The patient began to itch, which was quickly followed by wheezing. The procedure was stopped, and the patient immediately administered his medication. The patient’s action avoided a severe anaphylactic reaction.
During the past 30 years, latex allergies have been recognized as a significant problem for both specific patient and provider populations. The incidence of latex allergy in the general population has been estimated to be between 1 and 6 percent. Some adolescents experience incidences as high as 73 percent (notably those individuals with spina bifida and related pathologies). Women account for approximately 70 percent of latex-related anaphylactic reactions (most commonly during ob/gyn procedures).1 Adults with spinal cord trauma, neurogenic bladder, or documented history of unexplained intraoperative anaphylaxis can also be affected by frequent exposure to latex supplies. Healthcare workers maintain an incidence of allergic response that ranges from 8 to 17 percent.2
Other at-risk populations with repeated exposure to latex gloves include lifeguards, emergency responders, law enforcement professionals, and cosmetologists. In addition, glove powder has been shown to aerosolize latex proteins and increases the risks of a reaction in latex-sensitized patients or staff. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced a ban of the use of powdered gloves in surgery, powdered patient examination gloves, and absorbable powder used on surgical gloves. The ban was issued after an investigation determined that the powdered products present an “unreasonable and substantial risk of illness or injury and that the risk cannot be corrected or eliminated by labeling or a change in labeling .”3
Although most dentists are familiar with latex allergies, the infrequency of a severe reaction during a dental procedure can cause inadequate precautionary measures in a dental practice. Implement the following risk management strategies to reduce latex-related risks.
Risk Management Strategies
- Know your patient’s latex allergy status, and note it prominently in the patient’s medical records. Allergy status should be updated on each patient visit.
- Remove toys that contain latex from your practice’s common areas and play zones.
- Practice latex avoidance precautions. Create a patient area that is latex-free and educate staff about all dental-related products that are restricted from the room.
- Identify dental products that contain latex, including gingival stimulators, irrigation tips, dental dams, bulb syringes, cushioned eye protection goggles, tourniquets, rubber stoppers on medicine vials, adhesive tapes and bandages, water tubing, prophy cups, and rubber toothbrush heads and grips.
- Use latex-free carts, bandages, reservoir bags, airways, endotracheal tubes, laryngeal mask airways, and ventilator bellows
- Maintain a list of latex-free dental devices and office products and ensure that it is readily available for staff reference.
- Remember that touching any latex object can cause transmission of the allergen by hand to the patient.
- Ensure that your supplies include emergency medications with non-latex syringes and medicine stoppers.
- Perform practice drills with your staff so they are prepared for latex-related medical emergencies.
For a free brochure on latex allergy, contact the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) by calling toll-free (800) 842-7777. Additional information is available on the ACAAI website at http://acaai.org/allergies/types/skin-allergies/latex-allergy.