Rebecca Waters asks: “If the Glove Fits, What Else?”

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Initial Medical’s Rebecca Waters gets: “All gloved up”

In a dental practice, wearing gloves during treatment is of paramount importance. After all, gloves are often the first line of defence against bacteria and viruses.

But when it comes to gloves there are other aspects that should be considered too, such as comfort and material. Otherwise, you may be using gloves that are not right for you, and this may lead to unintended compliance issues.

Protect your hands

The primary use of gloves is to protect hands from substances such as blood and saliva. Blood, in particular, can carry dangerous viruses such as HIV or Hepatitis, and saliva can harbour problematic infections including herpes or hand, foot and mouth disease [1].

Due to the nature of the tools they use dentists are at a direct risk of contracting these diseases. Scalers and handpieces often cause a fine spray of blood or saliva when used in patients’ mouths, and, if hands are left unprotected, any pathogens in this spray can get into any small cuts or areas of weakness around the fingernails and enter the bloodstream.

Ungloved hands may also spread these contaminants to other surfaces in the practice, putting more people at risk.

Studies have confirmed that gloves are an effective barrier, reducing the bacteria present on hands by more than 80% [2]. However, good hand hygiene remains essential alongside wearing gloves in order to prevent bacteria and other pathogens from spreading. This is especially useful to remember as any gloves that have tears or small holes in them do not provide complete protection.

Materials make a difference

Materials make a difference, and certain materials can pose dangers to some people. Latex gloves, for example. It’s estimated that as many as 1-6% of the general population have latex sensitivity. Furthermore, as this allergy is caused by the proteins within natural rubber latex, people can develop sensitivity to the material over time.

This means that practitioners who regularly wear latex gloves have an increased chance of developing a sensitivity to the material, which is why the percentage of latex intolerance among healthcare workers stands at 8-12% [3].

The severity of the effects caused by latex sensitivity vary, but some of the associated symptoms include skin redness, hives and itching. Latex sensitivity can also cause respiratory problems such as a runny nose, itchy eyes and asthma, and those who are severely affected may even go into shock.

It’s always a good idea to ascertain whether either staff or patients have any latex allergies, and to have gloves made from different materials available in these situations.

Also, you must be aware that some materials react with any chemicals/disinfectants that you use regularly, and this may result in holes or other weaknesses that can compromise the glove’s protective value.

Follow the correct protocols

Gloves are only truly effective if they are used properly. That means wearing a new pair of gloves for every patient, and practising proper hand washing before replacing pairs. If a glove is found to be torn, it’s necessary to remove the glove (don’t double glove) and wash your hands before putting on a new pair.

It may seem obvious, but it’s also a good idea to have a variety of sizes available. Badly fitting gloves will either tear if hands are too big, or be too loose and therefore not provide adequate protection if the gloves are too large. It’s also a good idea to use chemical resistant gloves when cleaning or sterilising equipment, especially if you are using harsh cleaning materials.

Powder, perfume and more

Although we tend to think about gloves in terms of comfort, it’s also important to see gloves from the patient perspective. Whether you choose powdered or non-powdered gloves is likely to be a personal preference, but powdered gloves can have negative side-effects for patients, including setting off conditions such as asthma. It is for this reason that these gloves are banned in some places or falling out of use [4].

The gloves chosen by clinicians will vary due to necessity as well as personal preferences, however, in conclusion, whichever gloves you choose it’s important to emphasise their correct use within your practice. By wearing the right gloves and following the correct protocols, you can help effectively restrict the spread of pathogens.


Rebecca Waters is a Category Manager with Initial Medical. Rebecca has worked in the Healthcare sector for the past 15 years and was a Research Chemist with Bayer Cropscience prior to joining Rentokil Initial in 2003. She keeps up to date on all developments within the clinical waste management industry and is an active member of the CIWM, SMDSA and BDIA.

Initial Medical offers a wide range of gloves to suit all situations, including latex, non-latex, nitrile and vinyl. The gloves are available in a huge array of colours and sizes, can be powdered or powder-free, and can even be fragranced with peppermint to make for a better patient experience. For more information, go to 


1] Very Well Health. Infectious Diseases That Spread Through Saliva. Link: [Last accessed May 19].

2] Dentistry Today. Gloves in the Dental Office. Link: [Last accessed May 19].

3] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Latex Allergy. Link: click HERE  [Last accessed May 19].

4] Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. FDA Proposes Ban on Most Powdered Medical Gloves. Link: click HERE  [Last accessed May 19].