Evaluation of Ultrasonic Scaling Unit Waterline Contamination After Use of Chlorine Dioxide Mouthrinse Lavage

Wirthlin MR and Marshall GW Jr
Journal of Periodontology, Vol. 72, pp. 401-410; 2001


An infection control problem in dental operatories which is not fully controlled is waterline contamination by heterotrophic mesophilic bacteria. These bacteria are present in water supplies as a planktonic phase and adhere to the lumen of tubings as a biofilm comprised of their external cell surface glycocalyx and by production of extracellular carbohydrate polymers. The adherent film is most difficult to remove. The accumulated planktonic phase can be reduced significantly by flushing water from the lines before use in patient treatment, but will return when the equipment is idle through the accumulation of more planktonic phase and by slough of the biofilm surface-adsorbed phase not yet enmeshed in the carbohydrate matrix. Chlorine dioxide has antimicrobial activity against many bacteria, spores, and viruses. It is used in water supply treatment as a disinfectant and slime preventive and has an advantage over chlorine in that carcinogenic trihalomethanes are not generated.

This study compared use of phosphate buffer-stabilized chlorine dioxide (0.1%) mouthrinse as a lavage in ultrasonic dental scaler units with the use of tap water as a control. Sterile water flushed through the units onto heterotrophic plate count (HPC) sampler plates was cultured 7 days at room temperature and colonies were counted at 12×. One test and one control unit were used for biopsy of internal tubing and scanning electron microscopy imaging.

The HPC counts, in colony forming units (CFU)/ml, were reduced 3- to 5-fold by flushing tap water through the units, but they returned after units were idle overnight. When phosphatebuffered chlorine dioxide mouthrinse was used as a lavage, CFU/ml were reduced 12- to 20-fold. Holding chlorine dioxide in waterlines overnight reduced recurrent buildup compared to water (P <0.05). Scanning electron microscopy images indicated a significant reduction of biofilm coverage by chlorine dioxide as compared to water (P <0.001).

Phosphate-buffered chlorine dioxide mouthrinse was effective in these short-term trials for control of waterline contamination in ultrasonic dental scaling units. It should prove as useful in dental professional waterline applications as it has in industrial uses for biofilm control.
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