Here’s a scary thought – your dentist could be using dirty tools on you – and you’d never know until it was too late. That statement may sound exaggerated, but that’s exactly what happened in Oklahoma – where a dentist is accused of allegedly using dirty instruments on thousands of patients. Exposing them to everything from hepatitis to HIV.

So, how can you protect yourself at your next dental visit? Here are a few ways to gauge the cleanliness of your dentist’s office:

  • Keep your eyes glued on their gloves. Experts say dentists and hygienists should always put on new gloves directly out of a glove dispenser, not off of a countertop – which could be contaminated. And if they touch anything besides the instruments or your mouth, they just picked up germs. So, ask them to put on a new pair.

  • Are there knickknacks on your dentist’s countertops? Experts say clutter usually makes it difficult for surfaces to be sterilized. And look out for other signs that the office may not be clean, like carpeting. Because carpets can't be sterilized, only hospital-grade linoleum floors can.

  • Ask to see the dentist’s autoclave validation. An autoclave is a machine that deep cleans medical instruments. And a private company tests how well it’s working – either weekly or monthly. If your dentist doesn't want to show you their most recent report, that’s a red flag.

  • Then, make sure your dentist unwraps a sealed bag of instruments in front of you. That’s the only guarantee that the instruments have been sterilized by a machine.

  • Ask your dentist, “How do you guarantee that you don’t cross-contaminate patients?” If they don’t have a clear answer – consider that a dead giveaway that they’re not following proper sterilization procedures – and find a new dentist.