Detection and Quantification of Dental Unit Water Line Contamination by Oral Streptococci

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(1) To investigate the prevalence of oral streptococci (OS) and biological indicators of water contamination by oral fluids in water from dental unit water lines (DUWs) by detection and quantification and of saprophytes indigenous to the oral cavity. (2) To test whether measurement of the total cultivable mesophilic flora (TCF), the parameter commonly used to monitor water quality in DUWs, is an effective predictor for OS contamination.


Survey of 21 dental units equipped with antiretraction devices. Water samples were collected from air-water syringes, cup fillers, tap water, and before and during the working day.


Units were from 7 public dental offices selected for convenience from among those in proximity of the microbiological laboratory.


For detection of OS, samples were plated on an enriched medium, to revitalize the organisms. Colonies were subcultured on a selective medium and biochemically identified (lower detection limit, 1 cfu/mL). For measurement of the TCF, samples were plated on a nutrient-poor medium. Cultures with colony counts greater than 200 cfu/mL were considered to be TCF positive. The sensitivity and specificity of TCF positivity in predicting OS detection was calculated.


Prevalence rates for OS contamination and for TCF positivity were, respectively, 34.4% (11 of 32 samples) and 25.0% (8 of 32 samples) for syringes, 27.8% (10 of 36 samples) and 8.3% (3 of 36 samples) for cup fillers, and 0.0% (0 of 7 samples) for tap water. OS contamination levels ranged from 1 to 6 cfu/mL. No statistically significant differences were found between samples obtained before and during the working day. TCF positivity did not predict OS contamination effectively, because of low sensitivity.


Given the absence of OS in tap water, the reported prevalence of OS contamination suggests that oral fluids are aspirated during dental therapy with relatively high frequency and that DUWs can potentially expose successive patients to bloodborne cross-infections.

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