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Wednesday, 2 August, 2000, 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK
CJD scare - Ask the British Dental Association

There are concerns that the human form of mad cow disease could be transmitted during dental surgery.

Scientists say there is a 'theoretical risk' that variant Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (CJD) could be passed on by contaminated surgical instruments used in dentistry.

The UK Government has been quick to play-down the fears and there has not been a single case in the UK of the disease being transmitted by surgical instrument.

We put your questions about the latest scare to the British Dental Association chairman, Dr John Renshaw.

Click here to listen to the forum

Andrew Watson, UK: The UK Government says there has not been a single case of the disease being transmitted by surgical instrument. Since there have been cases of HIV transmission during dental procedures and the fact that the CJD is much tougher to kill than HIV how can the government be so confident in its claim?

Dr John Renshaw: There have been no cases of HIV having been shown to have been transmitted by dental procedures. As far as we know, the Dept of Health has been unable to find any evidence whatsoever that any kind of surgical procedure has ever been responsible for passing CJD from one patient to another. As far as we know, there is no proven case having been transmitted this way.

Sue Benson, UK: I had root canal treatment two years ago. Does that mean that I have an increased risk of developing vCJD?

Dr Renshaw: These are the worrying cases that are thrown up by a release of information like this without having evidence one way or another. What we are talking about at the moment is a theoretical risk only. It's only in theory that this risk exists.

We need to find out if there is a real risk. The people most at risk are the dentists and their staff. But it does appear that the risk is absolutely tiny. It's much more dangerous crossing the road to get to the dentist. I would have thought if she is perfectly all right two years on then I would think she will be perfectly all right for the foreseeable future.

Chris Bennett: We would like to know why dentists in general appear to have a cavalier attitude towards ensuring that their instruments - e.g. anything which is inserted into a patient's mouth - are actually sterile. They all take precautions against patients infecting them - gloves, masks etc.

Dr Renshaw: Cross infection control in dentistry is tighter than anywhere else in the health service. In most hospital wards it is relatively poor compared with dentistry. Gloves are not for the protection of dentists, particularly. Instruments are cleaned and sterilised between patients and as many things as possible are thrown away after use. So I think it is grossly unfair and unreasonable to say dentists do not take care about cross infection control.

Concerned Parents Group, UK: We are very concerned about the risk of getting the BSE virus in the dental instruments. Some dentists use one instrument to a family with children during a check-up. Dentists should provide an instrument to each patient/family members.

Dr Renshaw: It's unwise. I wouldn't say it doesn't happen but it's unwise. First of all, we need to establish that CJD is not a virus. It's something completely different. When it comes to families, I do not see why families should be treated differently to anyone else.

If you were not prepared to put something into a patient's mouth and then put it into someone else's mouth immediately afterwards. I do not see why you would be willing to do it for people in the same family. Cross infection control in dentistry is now of a high level and if you see that happening then you should say something to the dentist concerned.

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02 Aug 00 | Health
CJD dentistry fears played down

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