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Danger for the Dentist: Top Health Concerns



Health care administrators working in dentists’ offices are quick to point out that there are no standards governing the occupational hazards that these doctors face on a daily basis. As such, it is important for those working in a dental office to be aware of the dangers surrounding them and to protect their health accordingly. Here are the top five health risks facing today’s dental professionals:

1. Beryllium

According to the American Dental Association, beryllium is added to metal alloys during the manufacturing of crowns, bridges, and dental frame-works. Beryllium is also used during the processing of veneers. Exposure to beryllium vapor can cause minor issues like contact dermatitis and more serious issues like lung disease. Dental professionals are strongly advised to limit exposure to beryllium via the use of exhaust ventilation and protective clothing.

2. Bloodborne Pathogens

No matter how careful a dentist or hygienist is, blood is an everyday sight in the dental office. Bloodborne infections such as hepatitis and HIV/AIDS are a very real concern to dental professionals. Other diseases, such as influenza, are of concern as well. Anyone who works directly with patients is advised to wear proper hand, mouth, nose, and eye protection. Dental office administrators must ensure that adequate protection is abundantly stocked and is utilized with regularity.

3. Radiation

It’s unusual for a dental office to not utilize radiographs as a part of the examination process. Constant exposure to radiation can lead to numerous forms of cancer. X-ray machines should be kept within leaded walls and proper coverage should be worn by both the patient and the staff responsible for taking radiographs. Protection may include leaded gowns, leaded neck wraps, and leaded gloves. It is also important that specially-designed badges be worn each time an X-ray is taken. These badges record the amount of exposure to a person over a specific amount of time.

4. Ergonomics

Not many people would consider ergonomics to be an occupational hazard of the dental office, but studies have shown that hygienists are at high risk for developing carpal tunnel syndrome. Other professionals in the office may experience backaches and muscle fatigue from sitting in chairs or working at desks that are not constructed properly. Health care administrators should pay close attention to how work stations are designed and adjust them accordingly.

5. Nitrous Oxide

Occupational exposure to nitrous oxide can lead to infertility, spontaneous abortions, kidney disease, liver disease, and decreased mental performance. Proper ventilation is imperative in the dental office in order to reduce the waste gases in the surrounding air. Outdated vents may provide a false sense of security; all vents should be inspected regularly to be sure they are performing as expected. Any vent that is not adequately clearing the air must be replaced.

Health care administrators are not only responsible for the health and safety of dental patients, but for the dental staff as well. By understanding the exposure and risk that dental professionals face on a daily basis, administrators can take steps to ensure the safety of everyone in the office.