British Dentists Told Not To Reuse Root Canal Tools

Specter of Mad Cow Still Haunts the UK

British dentists have been warned by the country’s Chief Dental Officer not to reuse root canal instruments because of the risk of transmitting vCJD (mad cow disease). The warning applies specifically to reamers and filers, although the top doc also recommended other equipment (like saliva ejectors and aspirator tips) also be discarded after each patient.

Health officials in the UK estimate that anywhere from 1 out of 1,400 residents to 1 out of 20,000 residents carry the infection, although only a fraction show any symptoms. The disease is impossible to test for (at least in living patients), and current infection control standards will not prevent vCJD infection. The illness is transmitted via prions (essentially mis-folded protein molecules), not bacteria, viruses or parasites. Heat and disinfectants do not destroy prion molecules. There have been documented cases of patients infected via re-used brain electrodes or surgical tools.

So far, we in the US have been lucky to escape most of the mad cow scare. But just because we don’t know we’re in danger doesn’t mean we’re safe! Infections can take decades to show up, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

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