Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Public Health and BioMed Central.

Open Access Research article

Percutaneous injuries among dental professionals in Washington State

Syed M Shah123*, Anwar T Merchant4 and James A Dosman2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada

2 Canadian Centre for Health and safety in Agriculture, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada

3 Safety & Health Assessment & Research for Prevention, (SHARP) Program, Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, Olympia, USA

4 Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Public Health 2006, 6:269  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-6-269

Published: 30 October 2006



Percutaneous exposure incidents facilitate transmission of bloodborne pathogens such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis C virus (HCV) and hepatitis B virus (HBV). This study was conducted to identify the circumstances and equipment related to percutaneous injuries among dental professionals.


We used workers' compensation claims submitted to the Department of Labor and Industries State Fund during a 7-year period (1995 through 2001) in Washington State for this study. We used the statement submitted by the injured worker on the workers' compensation claim form to determine the circumstances surrounding the injury including the type of activity and device involved.


Of a total of 4,695 accepted State Fund percutaneous injury claims by health care workers (HCWs), 924 (20%) were submitted by dental professionals. Out of 924 percutaneous injuries reported by dental professionals 894 (97%) were among dental health care workers in non-hospital settings, including dentists (66, 7%), dental hygienists (61, 18%) and dental assistants (667, 75%). The majority of those reporting were females (638, 71%). Most (781, 87%) of the injuries involved syringes, dental instruments (77, 9%), and suture needles (23%). A large proportion (90%) of injuries occurred in offices and clinics of dentists, while remainder occurred in offices of clinics and of doctors of medicine (9%), and a few in specialty outpatient facilities (1%). Of the 894 dental health care workers with percutaneous injuries, there was evidence of HBV in 6 persons, HCV in 30 persons, HIV in 3 persons and both HBV and HVC (n = 2) exposure.


Out of hospital percutaneous injuries are a substantial risk to dental health professionals in Washington State. Improved work practices and safer devices are needed to address this risk.