Needlestick: Hazards and Prevention

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Initial Medical's Prettpal Somel discusses needlestick injuries and what you need to know

Syringes form a core part of any dentist’s armamentarium. Mainly used to administer local anaesthetic during treatments, these can be dangerous if not stored properly or capped after use. According to the 2017 needlestick injury survey by the British Association of Dental Nurses (BADN), 48% of respondents had received a needlestick injury at work, and 58% had experienced more than one [1].

Another study found over half of dentists and dental students experience a serious injury from needles at least once during a 12-month period – indicating that such injuries are common for individuals of all skill levels [2].

A large majority of such injuries (40% of those surveyed by the BADN) occurred after administration and before the disposal of the needle. Other injuries occurred before and during the use of syringes, when they were being recapped and during disposal.

What are the dangers?

As well as being painful, needlestick injuries carry the risk of cross infection. Some of these infections, such as cytomegalovirus and the Epstein-Barr virus (the best-known cause of glandular fever) pose only a mild risk. However, other conditions including hepatitis B and C and HIV, are of greater concern and are the most serious diseases that can be contracted through needlestick injuries [3].

These viruses cause a number of life-long problems for those infected, and though antiviral medications are available to treat them, these will only slow down their progress rather than cure them.

Needlestick injuries are extremely common in dental practices, but that doesn’t mean that every injury is of concern. It’s essential to first establish when the injury occurred. If it took place before the needle was used, and you are sure that the needle was sterile, the injury can be treated as nothing more than a minor cut and should be treated accordingly. However, if the needle has been used there are important steps that must be taken.

The first step is to wash the wound under running water to encourage it to bleed. This reduces the chance of infection and helps the wound heal faster [4]. It’s important not to scrub the wound while washing – and do not suck the wound. That could lead to an infection entering the body orally [5]. Applying a water-resistant dressing or plaster will prevent the wound from bleeding onto surfaces and clothing.

It’s vitally important to seek medical assistance should one of these injuries occur, especially if you believe that the patient may be a carrier of any blood-borne diseases. Vaccination against hepatitis B may be necessary, and PEP (post exposure prophylaxis) may also be given if there is a chance of HIV infection.

Precaution and protection

Needlestick injuries are bound to happen – but that doesn’t mean that you can’t significantly reduce the chances of infection spreading by using appropriate preventive measures. The InSafe Sharps Safety System from Initial Medical is particularly effective. A unique sharps and syringe disposal box, this item ensures that used needles are never exposed except during the injection, offering complete protection to patients and practitioners alike.

Needlestick injuries can have far-reaching consequences, and proper safety precautions should be taken in order to prevent these incidents occurring as much as possible. By investing in a safety box for needles, and by ensuring you follow proper post-injury procedures, you can drastically decrease the chances of infections spreading.


Prettpal Somel is the Marketing Executive for the Initial Medical and Ambius divisions of Rentokil Initial in the UK, with responsibility for sales and product training, service development, product innovation and brand building. For more information visit 


1] British Association of Dental Nurses. BADN Initial Medical Needlestick Injury Survey 2017 Report.

2] McDonald, R., Walsh, L., Savage, N. Analysis of Workplace Injuries in a Dental School Environment. Australian Dental Journal 1997; 42(2): 109-13.

3] NHS. What infections Can Used Needles or Sharps Pass On? Link: [Last accessed October 18].

4] NHS. How Do I Clean A Wound. Link: [Last accessed October 18].

5] NHS. What Should I Do If I Injure Myself With A Used Needle? Link: [Last accessed October 18].