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New Zealand Code of Practice
Medical Emergencies in Dental
Endorsed by DCNZ March 2005


Introduction …………………………………………………………………… 3 Preparation for Emergencies ……………………………………………. 3-4 ……………………………………………………………………. ………………………………………………………………………. …………………………………………………………

Generic Response to the Unconscious Patient ………………………… 6-7 Adult Collapse ……………………………………………………………… 7-8 Childhood Collapse ………………………………………………………. 8-9 Emergency Situations : Specific Responses …………………………………………………. ………………………………………………………… …………………………………………………… ……………………………………………………. Chest Pain/Myocardial Infarction ………………………. 12-13 Foreign Body – Upper Airway Obstruction ………………… 13 ……………………………………… …………………………………………. References …………………………………………………………………. 15 Code of Practice Medical Emergencies in Dental practice

Studies have shown that medical emergencies do occur in the dental practice1.
Dental practitioners and their staff need to have appropriate skills, training and
equipment available to deal with potentially life threatening conditions1,2.
The New Zealand Resuscitation Council has published national guidelines with
graduated levels for training and management of common life threatening
conditions. These guidelines are for all health professionals.
Dental practitioners must be adequately prepared and equipped to deal
with these common life threatening conditions
. They must have completed
training to a level equivalent to the NZRC Certificate of Resuscitation and
Emergency Care (CORE) Level 4. CORE 4 is also suitable for dental surgery and
receptionists for whom the CORE 4 final practical and written assessments are
optional. This training must be revalidated every four years.
Dentists practising techniques of sedation should have training
commensurate with the risk involved
. A CORE 4 certificate is regarded as the
minimum acceptable level of certification, revalidated every four years. Sedation
practitioners are encouraged however to attain a higher skill level where possible
because of the possible need for advanced airway control (preferably Level 6
CORE). Practitioners attending CORE 4 courses should request that the
instructor provide them practice in the technique of endotracheal intubation in
addition to the basic CORE 4 curriculum.
Up-to-date drugs and equipment, as listed in this code, must be operational and
readily available in all dental practices.
Survival from cardiac arrest with Ventricular Fibrillation is dependent on early
defibrillation. 50% of cardiac arrests following myocardial infarction occur in the
first 15-30 minutes. Defibrillation applied immediately following collapse will be
successful in 80% of cases, but success declines by 10% for every minute delay.
It may not be practical at present for dental practitioners to carry an automated
external defibrillator (AED). Dental practitioners may however wish to carry AED
devices to help improve community availability to early defibrillation.

a. Prevention
A comprehensive medical history must be recorded for all patients.
medical history form must be updated regularly. An assessment should be
Code of Practice Medical Emergencies in Dental practice undertaken for patients with unstable or severe medical conditions as to their
suitability for management in general dental practice. Patients with severe or
unstable medical conditions should be referred for treatment in hospital dental

b. Training

All staff in the dental practice should have appropriate training: dental
practitioners, Level 4 New Zealand Resuscitation Council Certificate of
Resuscitation and Emergency Care (CORE) or equivalent; dental surgery
assistants, reception and other staff, attendance at a Level 4 course with optional
assessment of practical and theoretical skills. Those not completing formal
assessment will require an NZRC letter of attendance. A team approach to
management of medical emergencies should be developed. Protocols should be
in place so that all staff members know their role in managing emergency
situations. The dental team should regularly practice scenarios within the dental
practice setting.

c. Equipment and Drugs.

Drugs must be readily available and up-to-date. They should be stored to
facilitate easy identification. Emergency equipment must be readily available. The
equipment must be checked frequently to make sure it is operational.


The following equipment must be carried and be readily available in dental

- Oxygen cylinder and regulator suitable for delivering high flow oxygen - Syringes and needles for drawing up and administering drugs - Bag mask device with oxygen reservoir - Basic airway adjuncts (oro-pharyngeal and naso-pharyngeal airways) - Equipment for recording blood pressure - Automatic external defibrillator (presently recommended not mandatory) - Spacer device to deliver Salbutamol - Paper Code of Practice Medical Emergencies in Dental practice 5. INTRAVENOUS SEDATION
A more complete range of equipment and drugs is required in practices where
intravenous sedation procedures are performed. Further information regarding
safe use of IV sedation within dental practice is contained within the NZDA Code
of Practice Sedation in Dental Procedures.


- IV cannulae (including large bore 14g,16g) - Tourniquet - Alcohol swabs, tape - Nebulisor to deliver Salbutamol or adrenaline - Advanced airway adjuncts (LMA + endotracheal tubes)
Drugs for use by sedation practitioners trained to CORE 6
- Glucagon - Normal saline 1000 ml - Haemaccel 500 ml (or other colloid solution) - Salbutamol - Hydrocortisone - Promethazine - Midazolam - Practitioners with manual defibrillation could carry Amiodarone and Code of Practice Medical Emergencies in Dental practice MEDICAL EMERGENCIES - INFORMATION


Initial assessment and management of an unconscious/collapsed patient follows
a similar pattern despite the diversity of possible causes. Unconsciousness can
be caused by deterioration of medical conditions, drug administration or trauma.
The following algorithm is a guide which can be followed in clinical practice and
community settings. The general dentist may be called upon to assist or manage
resuscitation in the community e.g. cardiac arrest, motor vehicle accident.
Whenever you recognise that a serious medical emergency exists, always go
through six steps of DRS-ABC. No other aspect of emergency care is as


Send for help

- Ensure your safety and then safety of patient. The patient/victim may
need to be moved.

- The most important assessment that decides much of your
following actions is a simple tap or shake and a command “are you okay?” This
will quickly tell you whether the person’s life is in immediate danger. A casualty
Code of Practice Medical Emergencies in Dental practice who can respond with a few words has an airway, can breath and has a
circulation. A person who is unresponsive may have none and is at risk of
aspiration and airway obstruction. Keep in mind a simple assessment of level of
V=response to verbal stimulus,
P=response to pain,

- an assistant for help (111). Ask them to then return and confirm the
ambulance is on its way.
Airway – Open the airway by head tilt and chin lift. If the casualty is a victim of
trauma, then the cervical spine may be damaged, use jaw thrust to open the
airway and hold the head to keep the head and neck still and in alignment with
the rest of the body.
Breathing - The breathing must be assessed quickly. If there is no breathing,
start rescue breathing. Consider intubation to protect the airway. If the breathing
is inadequate, the rescuer may need to give assisted rescue breathing. The
breathing check will also indicate any difficulty with breathing from asthma, heart
disease, anaphylaxis.
Circulation – Assess quickly and if there is no circulation chest compressions
must be started immediately. If there is bleeding use direct compression to stop
further blood loss. Once Drs ABC have been assessed and secured, give
consideration to other aspects of emergency care and positioning of the
patient/victim. Some patients may deteriorate after the initial assessment. It is
therefore best to consider DRS-ABC as a cycle, performed regularly while
awaiting the ambulance.
Many conditions present an immediate threat to life. Almost all of these conditions do so by preventing circulation and/or oxygenation. The practice of resuscitation is focused on the restoration and maintenance of circulation and oxygenation. The sequence of actions for the New Zealand Resuscitation Guidelines for Adult Collapse (Level 4) is summarised as follows: • Ensure your own safety and then ensure the victim is out of further danger. • Check responsiveness. Gently stimulate the victim and shout, “Are you all NZDA Code of Practice Medical Emergencies in Dental practice Send or shout for help.
• Open the airway with chin lift, head tilt or jaw thrust. Remove obvious causes
• Within 20 seconds check for breathing and assess for signs of circulation. Feel the carotid pulse while looking for other signs of life, movement or breathing. • If circulation is absent, the onset of arrest occurred within two minutes, a defibrillator is not immediately available and chest compressions have not already been started, give a single precordial thump. • Go for help if no help is available.
• Give two effective breaths, sufficient to make the chest rise and fall. Make up
to five attempts to deliver these breaths. • Position hands over the junction of the lower and middle third of the sternum. Compress the chest at a rate of 100 per minute. Depth of compression is
4-5cm. Both single and double rescuers should deliver cycles of 15
compressions, followed by two attempted breaths.
Ratio of compressions to breaths 15:2.
• Every three minutes reassess the circulation. If an AED is available, this
• If the AED indicates “Shock advised”, ask other rescuers to stand back and follow the device instructions. Sequences of three shocks will generally be delivered, unless a non-shockable rhythm results from one of the defibrillations. If, after a defibrillating shock, the AED indicates “No shock advised”, reassess the circulation. • If the AED indicates “No shock advised”, in the absence of a circulation, perform CPR and reassess the circulation/rhythm every three minutes. • Consider the possible causes and institute appropriate therapy.


Whereas in adults the focus is on early defibrillation, in children the focus is on early ventilation. The sequence of actions for the New Zealand Resuscitation Council Guidelines for Infant and Child Collapse (Level 4) is summarised as follows: • Ensure your own safety and ensure the victim is not in further danger. • Assess responsiveness by speaking loudly or pinching gently. Do not shake a baby. If unresponsive, shout or send for help. Code of Practice Medical Emergencies in Dental practice • Open the airway with head tilt (but avoid excessive extension) and chin lift. Use the jaw thrust manoeuvre if you suspect cervical trauma. Keep the mouth slightly open and remove any obvious cause of airway obstruction. • Chest or abdomen moves but there is no breathing at the mouth, reattempt airway opening and consider foreign body obstruction. • If the breathing is absent or inadequate, begin expire air ventilation giving five attempted breaths each lasting 1-1.5 seconds. • For no more than 10 seconds check for presence of a circulation. • If no circulation is present, if you are unsure, or in infants if the pulse rate is less than 60 per minute, start external chest compressions at the rate of
100 compressions per minute
Ratio compressions to breaths for CPR in child, five compressions to
one breath.
• After one minute of CPR activate the emergency medical services if you are • Resume CPR as soon as possible.
• After every three minutes of CPR reassess the circulation.
• If an AED is available and the child is over eight years of age, immediately
attach the electrodes to the victim’s chest and assess the rhythm. Follow the standard AED protocol. Newer AED devices are available with attenuated pads that deliver 50J and can be used in children under eight years. • If the AED indicates “No shock advised” in the absence of circulation, perform CPR and reassess the circulation/rhythm. • Consider the possible causes and institute appropriate therapy.



4.1 Anaphylaxis
A potentially life threatening immune reaction to foreign material.

Urticaria, angioedema, hypotension, tachycardia, bronchospasm.

Dependent on severity of presentation.
Assess the degree of cardiovascular collapse (pulse and blood pressure).
Assess the degree of airway obstruction (upper - angioedema, lower –
• Stop administration of drug.
Code of Practice Medical Emergencies in Dental practice • Call for help (111). • Patient supine. • Pulse, BP. • Assess breathing difficulty (stridor, wheeze, can’t speak). • Give O2. • Monitor consciousness, airway, breathing, circulation, pulse, blood pressure. • If shocked, angioedema or bronchospasm: - Adrenaline 0.5 ml, IM, 1:1000 = 0.5 mg immediately. - Repeat IM adrenaline every five minutes while waiting for ambulance.
4.2 Asthma
Most asthma-related deaths occur outside the hospital.

Assess severity.
Acute severe - patient unable to speak in complete sentences, pulse rate
greater than 110 per minute, respiratory rate greater than 45 per minute. • Life threatening asthma – “Silent chest”, cyanosis, sweating, hypercarbic
flush, bradycardia/hypertension, confusion, agitation. • If more than one feature severe, or any life threatening, arrange hospital - Salbutamol – one puff into large volume spacer and allow six breaths, - - If not improving, arrange hospital transfer. Repeat spacer bronchidilator treatment every fifteen minutes while awaiting transfer.
4.3 Diabetes
The most common diabetic emergencies are:
- Low blood sugar – hypoglycaemia in patients on anti-diabetic
- High blood sugar – hyperglycaemia, particularly diabetic ketoacidosis.

Code of Practice Medical Emergencies in Dental practice Clinical symptoms include thirst, increased urine output and dehydration. A
progressive reduction in conscious level and hypotension, with coma and
cessation of urine output in severe cases.

Primary assessment and resuscitation (Drs-ABC) securing the airway, breathing
and circulation.
Transport to a hospital facility.
Clinical symptoms of hypoglycaemia include sweating, hunger, tremor, agitation.
With progression drowsiness, confusion and coma.
Assume any diabetic with impaired consciousness has hypoglycaemia until
proven otherwise.

Conscious patients can usually be treated with rapid acting oral carbohydrates,
e.g. fruit juice, packets of granulated sugar, glucose powder neat or dissolved in
water. After ten minutes this short acting carbohydrate should be followed up with
food which contains longer acting carbohydrate. It is important that the victim is
not left alone until all danger of hypoglycaemia has passed. If the patient is
unconscious, attend to the airway, breathing and circulation. Protect the victim
from injury and activate the EMS (dial 111).
4.4 Epilepsy
There are several types of epilepsy. In a major seizure there is a sudden spasm
of muscles producing rigidity (tonic phase). Jerking movements of the head, arms
and legs may occur (chronic clonic). The victim becomes unconscious and may
have noisy or spasmodic breathing, salivation and urinary incontinence.
Status epilepticus occurs when a convulsion lasts longer than 30 minutes or
when a tonic-chronic seizure occurs repeatedly.
Remove dangerous objects from the mouth and around the patient, e.g. dental
• Loosen tight clothing. • Avoid restraining the patient. • The mouth should not be forced open, nor attempts made to insert any • Turn the victim into a stable side position as soon as the seizure stops, open and maintain a clear airway and avoid aspiration. • Check for breathing. If absent, follow the guidelines for collapse. Code of Practice Medical Emergencies in Dental practice • Allow the victim to sleep under supervision at the end of the seizure. • On recovery, give reassurance. • Transfer to hospital if: Tonic phase lasts longer than five minutes. (iv) Any post-seizure respiratory difficulty. (v) Victims usually begin with varying degrees of atheromatous coronary occlusion. Myocardial infarction is usually initiated by rupture or erosion of a thin cap which overlies these atheromatous plaques. Platelet adhesion and aggregation then occurs over the ruptured surface. The haemodynamic effects of this thrombus formation may lead to prolonged ischaemic symptoms and pain at rest. If the clot occludes the coronary artery a myocardial infarction occurs. Symptoms and Signs Persisting central chest pain, with possible radiation to the left or right arms, jaw, or neck. - Pain is no longer improved with Glyceryl Trinitrate. - Nausea, - A sense of impending doom. - Restlessness. - Shortness of breath. - Pallor, cold sweaty skin. - Pump failure: hypotension, raised venous pressure, tachycardia and Management If acute MI is suspected: • Reassure the victim, keep them warm. • Sit them up if breathless. • Lie them flat if they are faint. • Give GTN tablets or spray, one tablet chewed or one spray under the tongue. • Repeat in five minutes, if pain unrelieved, activate EMS (dial 111). • Give high flow oxygen by face mask. • Give 300 mg Aspirin, chewed or sucked if patient not allergic. • Continue monitoring level of consciousness and be prepared to initiate adult Code of Practice Medical Emergencies in Dental practice collapse guidelines if patient becomes unconscious. Foreign Body – Upper Airway Obstruction Severe or complete upper airway obstruction due to a foreign body rapidly progresses to unconsciousness and cardiac arrest within minutes. Presentation Management i. Partial obstruction. • Encourage patient to cough up or spit out. Initially do nothing else. • If poor air entry, increasing high pitched stridor, increased respiratory distress, manage as for complete airway obstruction. • Victim cannot speak, breathe or cough. • If patient is in the dental chair sit them up, turn patient side on in chair. Support chest with one hand and deliver five sharp back blows between the shoulder blades with the heel of the other hand. • If back blows fail, five abdominal thrusts (Heimlich). • Commence CPR with finger sweep between each cycle. • Consider cricothryoidotomy if no air entry.
4.7 Vasovagal
Usually defined as a transient loss of consciousness due to cerebral ischaemia caused by a reduction in blood supply to the brain. Vasodilatation causes pooling of blood in the peripheries and vagal stimulation causes slowing of the heart. This combination causes a dramatic fall in blood pressure. Presentation Patient feels light headed or dizzy, possibly nauseous, uncomfortable or agitated. They will appear pale and sweaty with a thready slow pulse and hypotension. Management Vasovagal syncope in a fit, healthy young patient: Code of Practice Medical Emergencies in Dental practice • Lie the patient flat. • Relieve any compression on the neck and maintain an airway. • Raise patient’s legs. • Give supplemental oxygen. • When consciousness is regained, patient should be kept flat and • Once pulse and blood pressure recover, slowly raise patient to seated
Patients with significant medical problems, or when syncope is prolonged or
complicated by seizure activity, should be transferred to a hospital environment
for further assessment as indicated.

4.8 Hyperventilation
Prolonged rapid deep breathing often in very anxious patients can lead to
profound metabolic changes that may result in loss of consciousness. A fall in
arterial CO2 concentration causes cerebral vasoconstriction and respiratory
The patient may notice tingling of the fingers or lips, tetanic spasm of the
peripheries, and dizziness. These symptoms tend to increase an anxiety and
respiratory rate and depth. Eventually the patient will become unconscious due to
a relative cerebral hypoxia. The patient is apnoeic for a period due to reduced
respiratory drive with low arterial CO2 concentration. As the arterial CO2 level
rises and cerebral vasoconstriction reverses, the patient starts breathing and
regains consciousness. Hyperventilation recommences and the cycle continues
with further loss of consciousness.
• Reassure patient.
• If conscious re-breath into paper bag to increase inspired CO2.
• In unconscious maintain airway until patient regains consciousness.
• Place in stable side position and reassure patient while re-breathing into
Code of Practice Medical Emergencies in Dental practice 5. REFERENCES

Broadbent, J.M., Thomson, W.M. The readiness of New Zealand General Dental Practitioners for Medical Emergencies. NZDJ 97: 82-86; 2001. Zacharias, M., Hunter, K.MacD. Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation in Dental Practice – an update. NZDJ 90: 60-65; 1994. New Zealand Resuscitation Council. Basic Resuscitation 2002 Resuscitation 2000 Code of Practice Medical Emergencies in Dental practice



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