There are number of occupational hazards associated with dentistry. Exposure to infections (Including viral hepatitis and Human Immunodeficiency Virus), percutaneous exposures incidents (PEIs), radiation and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), just to name a few.
Dental professionals like any other healthcare workers are at risk of occupational exposure to blood-borne pathogens such as Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), the hepatitis B and C viruses (HBV & HCV). In dentistry, aerosols, spatter, and sharp objects such as needles, can all transmit viral infections. Sharp injuries can occur due to a small operating field, frequent patient movement, and the variety of instruments used in a procedure. The risk of HIV transmission to healthcare professionals ranges from 0.2 to 0.3% for parenteral and 0.1% or less for mucosal exposures. This number for HBV is about 2% for HBeAg-negative and about 30% for HBeAg-positive blood, while HCV transmission risk is about 1.8%. Minimizing infectious hazards and their consequences, which include sound infection control practices, and hepatitis vaccination should always be considered by dental professionals. In general, for infection control strategies, a dentist should know the protective measures, sterilization, and/or other high-level disinfection solutions.
Stress is the leading psychological condition which can occur in the dental profession. Studies show that dentists believe that their profession is more stressful than other jobs and there is some evidence that suggest dentists suffer a high level of job-related stress. Running behind schedule, heavy workload, and anxious patients are among some the most intense stressors in a dentist’s work.
Although the use of latex gloves and other protective equipment greatly reduces the chance of blood-borne disease transmission, but as more and more healthcare professionals were using the latex containing equipment, problems began to be reported. In the Guidelines for Infection, Prevention & Control in Dental Settings, the Centers for Disease, Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests a number of protocols to manage latex sensitivity and associated adverse reactions in dentistry.
- Dental healthcare providers (DHCP) should be familiar with the signs and symptoms of latex sensitivity.
- A physician should evaluate DHCP experiencing symptoms of latex allergy, because further exposure could result in a serious allergic reaction.
- A diagnosis is made through the medical history, physical examination, and diagnostic tests.
- Procedures should be in place for minimizing latex-related health problems in DHCP and patients while protecting them from infectious materials. These procedures include;
- Reducing exposures to latex-containing materials, using appropriate work practices,
- Training and educating DHCP
- Monitoring symptoms,
- Substituting non-latex products when appropriate.
In addition to latex, dental materials, oils, X-ray processing chemicals, detergents and solvents that dentists use can also cause an allergic skin reaction.
- Postural situations such as leaning over the patient, contorting, and twisting the body for excessive periods of time can lead to musculoskeletal complications. Strained posture at work upsets the musculoskeletal alignment which then can lead to stooped spine. The stooped posture will then affect other group of muscle and joints. This may lead to MSDs. Continuous education and intervention studies are needed to reduce the risk of these occupational hazards.
- The vibration syndrome can be caused by working with vibrating tools and causes changes in the sensation of the fingers which can lead to permanent numbness of fingers, and muscle weakness. However, based on the available literature, there is no evidence linking vibrations emitted from dental instruments to symptoms characteristic of the vibration syndrome.
- Another physical hazard can be noise-induced hearing loss. Noise is always present during a dental procedure and is divided into distracting noises and destructive noise. Devices such as high and low speed turbine handpieces, ultrasonic equipment and cleaners, vibrators and mixing devices, high velocity suction, and model trimmers can be the sources of dental sounds that could possibly induce hearing loss.
Ionizing radiation: Taking images with X-ray machines that are in dental clinics and offices expose dentists to ionizing radiation.
Non-ionizing radiation: This type of radiation has recently become a concern since the use of composites and resins, along with the use of lasers in different procedures, have added a potential hazard to eye and tissues that are directly exposed.