Primary care trusts are to be asked to help find out from dentists how clean their surgical equipment is.
A Department of Health-led national survey will examine how well dentists are decontaminating reusable equipment. It will set a benchmark against which dentists will be expected to improve.
Further survey work may happen after dental practices have had the opportunity to identify gaps, implement any changes and have started working towards best practice.
But chief dental officer Barry Cockroft said the research is for scientific purposes and will not be used to "performance manage" dentists, although PCTs and strategic health authorities will be told if unsafe practises are identified.
The department wants to draft in PCTs' infection control nurses to do the work.
Mr Cockroft said: "The primary aim of the national survey and guidance is to improve the safety and quality of surgical instrument decontamination processes, and thereby reduce the risk of cross infection to patients and staff."