Dental Tribune America

New study focuses on dentists’ occupational health

MORGANTOWN, W.Va., U.S.: Something often overlooked in dentistry is the occupational health risks to practitioners. In a new study, researchers from West Virginia University (WVU) School of Dentistry are collaborating with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to find out how microscopic, airborne particulates and gases might be generated during dental procedures and what measures dentists can take to protect themselves.

After a number of dental professionals were diagnosed with the commonly fatal condition of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis at a single Virginia clinic, the researchers became interested in learning more. Not knowing the cause of the disease is part of the reason they want to understand better what dental personnel are exposed to in the work environment, according to Dr. Randall Nett, who leads the Field Studies Branch of the NIOSH Respiratory Health Division and investigated the cluster of cases when they came to light

To gather the data needed for the study, the researchers will measure the size and concentration of particulates in real time during common dental procedures at five WVU teaching clinics and 29 private dental clinics that collaborate with the dental school’s Department of Dental Practice and Rural Health. They will analyze a variety of samples: metals, dust, silica, volatile organic compounds and anesthetic gases.

“In some smaller clinics, it could be that their setting is in a strip mall, say, and the ventilation systems have not been evaluated,” said Dr. Brie Blackley, a research industrial hygienist at NIOSH. “We will characterize not only the potential exposures that are present but what actions can be taken to mitigate them.”

The researchers have noted that, once they have collected the data analyzed the data, they plan to collaborate with the American Dental Association and the WVU School of Dentistry to share their results with dental professionals. “We don’t want to just point to a potential hazard and say, ‘Here’s a problem.’ We want to be able to characterize exposures and recommend actions that dental personnel could take to protect themselves,” explained Blackley.

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