Small injuries, big consequences

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  Posted by: Dental Design      23rd August 2022

Working in any healthcare role comes with risks. In dentistry, one common threat is needlestick injuries. Though wounds created by needles tend to be small, they can potentially lead to significant consequences, especially when treating patients who are carrying an infectious disease.

But how common are these injuries and what can dental professionals do should they experience one?

A problem for all professionals

Over the years, many studies have been performed to assess the prevalence of needlestick injuries in dental settings. Whilst numbers do vary, the main takeaway is that in each group of dental professionals researched, the vast majority have experienced needlestick injuries during the course of their careers.

What’s particularly interesting is that these injuries are common among professionals of all skill levels – meaning that they impact everyone from students to the most experienced in the field.

To get an idea of numbers, one study that spoke to dental, nursing and midwifery students found that 73% had experienced an injury of this type within the 12 months preceding the survey.[1] Another piece of research found that over half of dental nurses (52%) had received a needlestick injury during their careers, with 60% saying they had received more than one, and 11% saying they’d been injured in the past year.[2]

In fact, it’s estimated that there are about 40,000 needlestick injuries in dental practices across the UK per annum.[3] We also need to consider that many of these injuries are likely to go unreported, so the true prevalence could be even higher.

What are the risks?

The main risk of needlestick injuries is that they can result in the transmission of bloodborne diseases. There are multiple viruses that can be spread in this manner, including Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV.[4]

Though advances in healthcare have ensured that both Hepatitis B and C can be cured, Hepatitis B infections can become chronic; resulting in the need for lifelong management and the possibility that infected individuals will face numerous complications, including liver damage, liver failure, liver cancer and even death.[5] Luckily, in the UK most people are vaccinated against Hepatitis B, but the risk is still there.

HIV, too, has long-term consequences. Huge steps forward have been made in preventing this condition from becoming fatal, but HIV remains incurable, and can impact an individual’s general health due to weakening the immune system unless the person is seeking treatment.[6] There is also a significant mental health toll that comes with a HIV diagnosis, especially as there is still stigma and discrimination surrounding the condition. This is perhaps partially why people with the condition are almost twice as likely to suffer from depression.[7]

Whilst the odds of getting these diseases from needlestick injuries aren’t high, there are still a significant number of healthcare individuals who have contracted diseases in this manner. For HIV, risk of transmission via needlestick is estimated to be around 1 in 300. For Hepatitis B the odds are much higher – 1 in 3 if the injured person isn’t vaccinated.[8] As such, it’s important for all professionals to know how to act if and when they do receive a needlestick injury.

First response matters

In the event of a needlestick injury, the first step is to wash the wound under running water using soap. You should avoid scrubbing the wound during this time, and after it has been washed it should be covered with a waterproof plaster or dressing.[9]

Following this, it’s vital to fact check the incident to assess your level of risk. If you have been stuck by a clean, unused needle for example, it’s unlikely that you will need additional care. If the needle has been used, it’s important to check the medical history of the patient it has been used on to see if they have any bloodborne diseases that could be transmitted.

If this information isn’t available or up to date, it’s a good idea to seek professional advice from a doctor. If they believe you need treatment, they can provide the necessary care.


The best defence against needlestick injury complications is to minimise the occurrence of this type of harm in the first place. Although needlestick injuries can transpire at any time, including during needle disposal, research suggests that the majority happen during or immediately after use.[10]

The InSafe Sharps Safety System from Initial Medical has been specifically designed to help eliminate the risk of sharps injuries during and after administration. This innovative safety syringe ensures that the contaminated needle is never exposed between uses, and is easy to use as it aspirates just like a traditional syringe.

You can purchase the InSafe Sharps Safety System here:

A top concern

As needlestick injuries remain common in dental settings, it’s important to ensure that staff know the risks and what to do should an injury of this type occur. By investing in innovative solutions, you can help reduce the chance of these types of injuries occurring, too.


To find out more, get in touch at 0870 850 4045 or visit the website today




Rebecca Waters, Category Manager, Initial Medical

Rebecca has worked in the Healthcare sector for the past 17years 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.  


About Initial Medical Waste 

Initial Medical set the standard in healthcare and infectious waste management in the UK, providing a reliable, effective and fully compliant service built around customer needs and delivered by our highly trained local teams.  We are ISO 9001:2015 accredited, with technology fully integrated into our operations, providing full traceability of service delivery, electronic waste documentation and the best customer experience possible. We also offer innovative healthcare waste management services and infection control products, to help break the chain of transmission and prevent cross contamination.  

Initial Medical are a company with a ‘World Class’ Health and Safety record, and ISO 45001:2018 accreditation. We are also accredited to ISO 14001:2015 environmental standards, and pride ourselves on our sustainable approach with a focus on delivering eco-friendly products and operational solutions.

For further information please visit or Tel: 0870 850 4045

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[1] Askarian, M. Prevalence of Needle Stick Injuries Among Dental, Nursing, And Midwifery Students in Shiraz, Iran. GMS Krankenhaushygiene interdisziplinar vol. 7,1 (2012): Doc05. doi:10.3205/dgkh000189

[2] Dentistry. Just over half of dental nurses have had a needlestick injury at some stage throughout their career. Link: [Last accessed May 22].

[3] Dentist’s Provident. The Eye of the Needle (Part One). Link: [Last accessed May 22].

[4] Better Health Channel. Needlestick Injury. Link: [Last accessed May 22].

[5] Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis B Questions and Answers for the Public. Link:,but%20this%20is%20an%20underestimate. [Last accessed May 22].

[6] Mayo Clinic. HIV/AIDS. Link:,depression%2C%20anxiety%20and%20difficulty%20walking. [Last accessed May 22].

[7] Terrence Higgins Trust. Depression. Link: [Last accessed May 22].

[8] Web MD. Needle Stick Injury: What To Do. Link:,t%20been%20vaccinated%20for%20it. [Last accessed May 22].

[9] University of Oxford. Sharps, Splash, Bite and Needlestick Injuries. Link: [Last accessed May 22].

[10] Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Workbook for Designing, Implementing and Evaluating A Sharps Injury Prevention Program. Link:,and%2For%20the%20patient%20moves. [Last accessed May 22].

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